The Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute, Federal Research Institution for Animal Health (LFI) has been investigating a mysterious new illness infecting dairy cows in the North Rhein-Westphalia region of Germany. Since the summer months, several herds exhibited fever of over 40°C, loss of appetite and decreased milk production. After several days, these clinical symptoms disappeared.
During early investigations, conventional diagnostic methods were able to exclude bluetongue virus, foot-and-mouth disease and epizootic hemorrhagic fever, among other animal diseases. In November, an expensive and far more laborious procedure was utilized to identify the causative agent. Initial results conclude that the virus is part of the genus Orthobunyaviruses, and it is assumed that the new virus belongs to the group of Akabane-like viruses.
This exotic virus may cause severe congenital damages in pregnant animals, as well as premature births and reproductive disorders. Calves that are not stillborn may suffer from serious brain and limb malformations. It is most likely spread between animals through biting midges, which are very small blood-sucking flies. There is no danger that the disease is transmissible to humans through milk products.
Since the causative agent was first identified in nine dairy cows in the town of Schmallenberg, the virus has been provisionally termed “Schmallenberg virus”.
As this time, the LFI can neither confirm nor exclude a causal relationship between the Schmallenberg virus and the clinical symptoms seen in dairy cows. Additionally, further investigation may reveal the origin of Orthobunyaviruses in cattle.
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