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French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

Emergence of the Schmallenberg virus and creation of a surveillance system

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News of 24/01/2012

24 January 2012

This previously unknown virus first appeared in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium in the second half of 2011, affecting cattle and small ruminants. The French authorities rapidly set up a surveillance system to detect any introduction of the virus on French territory as early as possible.

Between August and October 2011, cases of acute infection with the Schmallenberg virus were reported in cattle in Germany and the Netherlands (about 80 suspected outbreaks in the Netherlands distributed over the whole country and some twenty suspected outbreaks in Germany in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia). In addition, since December 2011, cases of malformations linked to this virus have been observed in sheep and goats, in Germany (14 sheep farms affected by 10 January 2012), Belgium (14 sheep farms affected by 6 January 2012) and in the Netherlands (52 outbreaks confirmed by 9 January 2012, on 51 sheep farms and one goat farm). The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) was notified immediately about the outbreaks of infection with the Schmallenberg virus in the Netherlands, on 5 January 2012. For the time being, there are no restrictions on the trade of live animals or their products from affected areas, nor any recommended prevention or control measures.

The French Directorate General for Food (DGAL) has set up a surveillance system; its terms of reference were drawn up based on proposals by the French Epidemiological Surveillance Platform for Animal Health. It involves clinical investigation of malformations in ruminants with the intention of detecting any circulation of the Schmallenberg virus within mainland France (memorandum DGAL/SDSPA/N2012-8007 of 4 January 2012), with surveillance concentrated in the areas most at risk of introduction of the virus, i.e. the regions sharing borders with Belgium and Germany.

ANSES involvement
Via its Maisons-Alfort Laboratory for Animal Health, ANSES has a key role in this surveillance system, providing its capability of diagnosing infection in any suspected cases. As of 17 January 2012, no infections had been confirmed in any of the ten suspected cases in France.
In addition, the Agency has been asked by the DGAL to assess the direct and indirect impact of this new disease on ruminant holdings, together with the risk of its spreading within France.
The French Epidemiological Surveillance Platform for Animal Health, in which ANSES is a stakeholder, is contributing to the definition of methods of vigilance to be applied to this emerging disease. It is following the health situation closely, especially with a view to providing any necessary support in adapting the surveillance system.

Find out more:

What is the Schmallenberg virus?
The Schmallenberg virus was identified for the first time in Germany in November 2011 and belongs to the family of orthobunyaviruses. As far as is currently known, it seems mainly to affect ruminants. In adult cattle, the symptoms of acute infection are hyperthermia, lack of appetite and, in dairy cows, a drop in production, diarrhoea and abortions. In gravid female ruminants, infection can also result in the birth of offspring with malformations (arthrogryposis, shortened hock tendons, deformed jawbones, hydranencephaly, etc.). There is as yet no hypothesis as to the origin of the virus. It seems highly likely that it is vector-borne (by culicoids, mosquitoes and/or ticks). In females that become infected during gestation, the foetus can also become infected (vertical transmission), leading to abortions and intra-uterine malformations.

What is the French Epidemiological Surveillance Platform for Animal Health?
The French Epidemiological Surveillance Platform for Animal Health was created in October 2011 as a result of the national consultation on the health sector held in 2010 under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture. Its mission is to ensure that appropriate arrangements are made for hazard surveillance regarding current or emerging health threats in France. It currently consists of a partnership between six organisations: the French Directorate General for Food; ANSES; the French national society of veterinary technical groups; GDS France (representing health defence groups); Coop de France; and the ADILVA (a French association of laboratory veterinarians).