Schmallenberg virus (SBV) was first identified in Germany in late 2011 by the Friedrich Loeffler Institute and has now been found in several European countries including Holland, France, Belgium, U.K. and Spain. The disease, which affects sheep, cattle and goats, was first recognized due to transient clinical symptoms including fever, diarrhea and loss of milk production. However, a more significant consequence of infection in pregnant animals is the production of severe congenital malformations in newborn animals, especially lambs. The virus is a member of the Orthobunyavirus genus within the Bunyaviridae family and is closely related to Shamonda and Akabane viruses. These viruses are transmitted by insect vectors (including biting midges (Culicoides sp.) and mosquitoes). To determine whether these insects may act as vectors for SBV, biting midges (Culicoides spp.) caught in October 2011, in the south-west of Denmark (close to the German border), were sorted into pools and tested for the presence of Schmallenberg virus RNA by RT-qPCR. From 18 pools of 5 midges from the C. obsoletus group, 2 pools were both found positive in two separate assays, targeting the L- and S- segments of the SBV RNA. However, 4 pools of C. punctatus s.str were negative. The sequence of 80bp (excluding the primer sequences) from the amplicons (ca. 145bp) was identical to that published for the expected region of the SBV L-segment. The levels of SBV RNA detected in the biting midges were much higher than could be accounted for due to the residue of a blood meal and no ruminant actin mRNA could be detected either. These results strongly suggest that SBV has replicated within specimens of the C. obsoletus group and indicates that these biting midges can act as vectors for this virus. To date (end of March), no cases of disease due to SBV have been detected in sheep, cattle or goats in Denmark.
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Abstract accepted for an oral presentation at the "Schmallenberg virus Satellite Symposium".