Virus lays low thousands of farm animals
Thousands of cows, sheep and goats have been infected with a flu-like virus across Germany, with the number of infected herds increasing sharply over the weekend.
According to a report in Bild newspaper, the number of herds infected with the “Schmallenberg virus” has jumped from 34 to 314 since Friday, and more and more farms are reporting premature births and deformed baby animals since the virus hit.
Eight cow herds, 12 goat herds and as many as 294 sheep herds have been affected by the virus so far, mostly in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, but individual cases have also been found in 11 other German states.
According to the report, it is only a matter of time until the whole of Germany is affected.
The virus is transmitted by insect bites and has flu-like symptoms, including diarrhoea and fever.
Since so many animals are infected at the moment, experts are predicting an increase in the number of infected animals in the spring, when the young are born.
The current cold snap has slowed the virus for now, but since there is no cure, experts are predicting that the rate of infection will increase in the coming months.
But health authorities stress that there is no cause for undue alarm, since humans are immune to the virus.
The Schmallenberg virus is named after a small town in North Rhine-Westphalia where it was first recorded last November. The name is still considered informal, as scientists are still identifying and classifying it.
It has since been discovered on farms in Belgium, the Netherlands and Britain.