FARMERS are still being urged to remain vigilant after the Schmallenberg virus was identified on more farms in the south of England this month.

The virus, first seen in mainland Europe, has now been detected at around 40 sheep farms in the south and east of England with one cattle farm reporting an infection outbreak in the past week.

A statement issued by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency said the areas currently affected were in line with those thought to be at risk from infected midges blown across from mainland Europe.

The Schmallenberg virus can cause congenital defects in close to term and newborn lambs, calves and goat kids, including twisted joints, limbs and neck.

The counties with reported cases so far are Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Kent, East Sussex and Hertfordshire with the one cattle infection reported in West Sussex.

However, farmers across the South-West are being urged to be alert to symptoms of the disease as not enough is yet known about the virus or the way it spreads.

Hamish McBean, chairman of the National Beef Association, said the disease could prove to be disastrous for farmers.

He said: “If a cow loses her calf you’ve lost your whole year’s production from that animal, and there’s the risk of losing the cow herself if her offspring is deformed enough to cause calving difficulties.

“The NBA recommends calling your vet if in any doubt.

The Health Protection Agency has issued advice to people regarding the virus.

A spokesman said: “Pregnant women should follow existing DEFRA guidance which advises them to avoid close contact with animals which are giving birth.

“This includes avoiding contact with newborn or aborted lambs, calves or kids, avoiding handling clothing or boots which may have come into contact with these animals, and ensuring that partners take hygiene precautions.”