Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Schmallenberg: New Euro Mammalian Virus

While the markets continue their ridiculous "Eurofantasy" rally, it behooves us to take note of something else threatening The Continent (and perhaps ours as well very soon).  By Kai Kupferschmidt in ScienceNOW:  "Scientists in northern Europe are scrambling to learn more about a new virus that causes  malformations and stillbirths in cattle, sheep, and goats. For now, they don’t have a clue about the virus’s origins or why it’s suddenly causing an outbreak. The virus, provisionally named “Schmallenberg” after the German town from which the first positive samples came, was detected in November in dairy cows that had shown signs of infection with fever and a drastic reduction in milk production. Now it has also been detected in sheep and goats, and it has shown up at dozens of farms in neighboring Netherlands and in Belgium as well. “We are taking this very, very seriously,” adds Thomas Mettenleiter, head of the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute (FLI), the German federal animal health lab located on the island of Riems. The virus appears to be transmitted by midges, and infections likely occurred in summer and autumn of last year, but fetuses that were exposed to the virus in the womb are only now being born. The first cases of lambs with congenital malformations appeared before Christmas. “Now, in some herds 20 percent to 50 percent of lambs show malformations,” Mettenleiter says. “And most of these animals are born dead.” Scientists are bracing for many more cases to appear, especially in cattle, because bovine fetuses infected in summer 2011 would be expected to be born in February and March. Comparisons indicate it is a member of a group called the orthobunyaviruses. “Orthobunyaviruses have been neglected for a long time, and we just don’t know a lot about them,” says Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit of the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, Germany. “The problem with orthobunyaviruses is that their segmented genome makes the emergence of new combinations very easy, just like with influenza viruses,” Schmidt-Chanasit says. Whether the Schmallenberg virus could sicken humans is unknown. At least 30 orthobunyaviruses have been associated with human disease. A risk assessment by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in Stockholm, issued just before Christmas, concluded that “it is unlikely that this new orthobunyavirus can cause disease in humans, but it cannot be excluded at this stage.” The experts recommended closely monitoring the health of farmers and vets. (This story provided by ScienceNOW, the daily online news service of the journal Science.)  The virus has recently been confirmed in the U.K.