Throughout northern Europe, scientists and local authorities are dealing with the emergence of a new virus. The microorganism attacks cattle, sheep and goats, and causes females to display fetal malformations during pregnancy, or give birth to dead offspring.
Epidemiologists are currently working as hard as they can on gaining new insight into how the virus acts, where it originated from, and other similar characteristics. These animals represent an important source of food for numerous populations, and therefore must be preserved at all costs.
Despite their best efforts, scientists don't have any clue about where the virus came from at this point. Another mystery is how it managed to cause an outbreak so fast when, usually, such agents are first identified in small populations of animals. Experts didn't even know this one existed.
At this point, the situation is growing so desperate that the investigators are making the virus and associated detection protocols available to any researcher or science group that may be interested in working towards studying the agent and the disease it causes.
Investigators in northern Europe want to develop effective diagnostics tools and vaccines as soon as possible. For now, the microorganism has been named the “Schmallenberg virus,” after the German city where it was first identified.
It was first detected in dairy cows that displayed symptoms such as fever and a significant reduction in the amount of milk they provided daily. Some time later, the first instances of infection were detected in sheep and goats as well, Wired
A large number of farms in the Netherlands and in Belgium were also discovered to have infected animals. In response to this situation, the European Commission’s Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health released a centralized statistic of infected locations.
The Netherlands leads the way, with 52 infected farms, followed by Germany with 20 and Belgium with 14. Unfortunately, numerous similar instances are currently under investigation, so authorities fear that these numbers may increase even further.
“A lot of lambs are stillborn or have serious malformations. This is a serious threat to animal health in Europe,” explains Wim van der Poel, who holds an appointment as a research scientist at the Dutch Central Veterinary Institute, in Lelystad.
According to the head of the Germany-based Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute (FLI), Thomas Mettenleiter, between 20 and 50 percent of all offspring born in the affected farms display malformations. “We are taking this very, very seriously,” he concludes.