Although lambing season has barely begun the threat of the deadly Schmallenberg Virus has already reared its head for a second year running.

The virus, known as SBV for short, affects sheep, cattle and goats. The symptoms include congenital deformities and nervous defects in newborn lambs, goat kids and calves, while clinical signs in affected cattle include pyrexia (fever), milk drop and diarrhoea similar to what is often termed ‘winter dysentery’.

The disease has been associated with very mild to moderate disease symptoms in adult animals and late abortion or birth defects in cattle, sheep and goats.

The virus reached the South West last year and spread rapidly. It is believed to be highly likely that the virus is transmitted between livestock by biting insects, such as midges and mosquitoes.

Vets have now reported cases emerging once again, although the full extent of the problem will not be known until lambing season has begun proper.

Julie Girling, MEP for the South West, said decisions now needed to be made on how to deal with the disease.

She said: “Over the last few years we have become used to dealing with Bluetongue in the UK, which is an entirely airborne virus spread by insects.

“It was well known in other parts of the world and a vaccination exists, whereas Schmallenberg is a relatively new virus with very little research completed on its cause and spread.”

A vaccine for SBV is under development, but is unlikely to be available until next year's lambing season.

No illness has been reported to date in humans exposed to animals infected with Schmallenberg, although caution is urged, particularly from pregnant women.