Between August and October 2011, cases of acute infection with the Schmallenberg virus were reported in cattle in Germany and the Netherlands. In addition, since December 2011, cases of malformation linked to this virus have been observed in sheep and goats, in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. 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.
However, The French Directorate General for Food (DGAL) has set up a surveillance system; its terms of reference were based on proposals by the French Epidemiological Surveillance Platform for Animal Health (which is run by ANSES and brings together all stakeholders involved in this health system). It involves clinical investigation of malformations in newborn ruminants with the intention of detecting any circulation of the Schmallenberg virus within mainland France, with surveillance concentrated in the areas most at risk of introduction of the virus, i.e. the regions sharing borders with Belgium and Germany.
On 3 February, the structure thus set up was able to confirm the presence of the disease in France, on 50 sheep farms spread across 14 départements (Aisne, Aube, Bas-Rhin, Calvados, Haute-Marne, Meurthe-et-Moselle, Meuse, Moselle, Nord, Oise, Pas-de-Calais, Seine-Maritime, Somme, Vosges).
In view of this situation, the Minister of Agriculture issued a formal request to ANSES to assess the impact of this new disease on farms. The Agency set up an Expert Group that will publish its initial findings in February.
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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 geographical 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).