Now horses are threatened by deadly foreign virus

As alien disease hits sheep and cattle in England, fears that climate change could also bring in equine threat

A A A

A severe disease of horses may be the next new infection to hit Britain after the Schmallenberg virus causing birth defects in sheep and cattle on English farms, scientists said yesterday.

Concern is growing that African horse sickness, which kills 95 per cent of infected animals, may be brought to Britain by wind-borne insects, just as the Schmallenberg virus was last year, and the Bluetongue virus before that in 2007.

Until these two pathogens arrived in Britain, carried by biting midges blown on the wind from continental Europe, Britain had been free of midge-borne diseases. But scientists are warning that they may be only the first of a considerable number of new infections, including some affecting humans, which are being helped to spread north through Europe by the warming climate.

The danger was spelled out at an expert briefing in London on the progress of the Schmallenberg infection, which is affecting 83 farms in southern England, five of them cattle farms and the rest sheep farms. The disease, which appears to have no effect on humans, makes livestock ill for a few days, after which they recover and are subsequently immune – but if it is caught by pregnant animals, it can severely deform or kill their foetuses.

A large number of lambs are being born dead or deformed on farms, mainly in East Anglia and the south-east.

Professor Peter Mertens, research leader for vector-borne viral diseases at the Institute for Animal Health, said that a Schmallenberg vaccine was now being developed by commercial companies and would be ready in 18 months to two years.

It was possible, he added, that the current bout of the disease would "fizzle out" this year – it depended on whether or not it was still sufficiently present in the summer for a new generation of biting midges to pick it up and transmit it.

However, Professor Mertens, and his colleague Professor Matthew Baylis, Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology at the University of Liverpool, were more concerned at even more severe pathogens which might be brought to the British Isles by insects carried by the wind, including West Nile virus, which affects animals, birds and people.

"Until the 1990s we did not have midge-borne viruses in northern Europe," Professor Baylis said, "They were confined to the far south-west and the far south-east of the continent – to Spain and some of the Greek islands. But in 1998 Bluetongue virus began to spread north, and it has never gone away."

Research had shown that Europe's warming climate was making the spread more possible.

The possible arrival of African horse sickness was "the main worry," Professor Baylis said. There is a vaccine for it, but it is a live-virus vaccine which carried its own risks, he said,

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HR Business Partner - Banking Finance - Brentwood - £45K

£45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: ** HR Business Partner - Senior H...

PA / Team Secretary - Wimbledon

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: PA / Team Secretary - Mat...

Mechanical Lead

£65000 - £75000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Mechanical L...

Nursery Nurse

£8 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Nursery Nurse The Nursery Nurse wi...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on