Fatal virus kills 18 newborn lambs at country park

Picture: Vernon Nash

A&E at Queen Alexandra Hospital: Facts and Figures

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NEWBORN lambs at a country park in Havant have been hit by a killer virus.

Three were born dead and up to 15 died in the days after they were born at Staunton Country Park.

It comes as the Schmallenberg virus has swept across Hampshire and West Sussex, with more than 50 reported cases across the two counties.

The virus, named after the German town where it was discovered last November, is thought to have come from infected midges that have been blown across the English Channel.

The virus is not being seen as a risk to human health by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

But it can wreak havoc on sheep and cattle, causing serious birth defects.

Adrian McKay, a farmer at Staunton for four years, where the sheep are used for commercial purposes as well as for the visitor attraction, said it had been upsetting to see lambs die.

He said: ‘It was the midges that infected the animals last September and October.

‘It affected them in different ways. Some lambs would limp, some were born deformed. Some would not drink milk.’

But around 70 of the lambs did survive and are happily running round the fields at Staunton.

Mr McKay added: ‘As we are subsidised, it’s not affected us as much.

‘For commercial farms it’s a great loss to them.’

Mr McKay said the farm was hoping to increase its flock to 150, so the deaths would mean more ewes would have to be bought.

There is no vaccine for the disease and government scientists are still building up a picture of how the virus works.

Mr McKay said it may be that once an animal has survived the virus they will become immune to it.

He added: ‘If I worried about every virus that comes along, I would never sleep. There’s one every year.

‘But you don’t like lambs dying.’

According to the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, there have been 15 confirmed cases in Hampshire and 39 cases in West Sussex.

There are more than 250 UK farms reporting the disease, although experts consider this may not show the true toll.

A statement from the Veterinary Laboratories Agency said: ‘As this is a newly identified virus there are still aspects of the disease that remain unknown at this point until more research has been done.’