DEMANDS are being made of Government health experts to conduct urgent research into the risk to human health posed by a new deadly sheep virus sweeping the country. Schmallenberg Virus (SBV) has now been confirmed on 158 farms across 20 counties in England, according to the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) and the figures are expected to rise throughout the lambing season. SBV is thought to be spread by midges, mosquitoes and ticks - causing birth defects, stillbirths and miscarriages. Malformations observed include bent limbs and fixed joints, brain deformities and marked damage to the spinal cord. Some animals are born with a normal outer appearance but have nervous signs such as a 'dummy' presentation or blindness, ataxia, recumbency, an inability to suck and sometimes fits.* Eleven cases of SBV have now also been confirmed in cattle. The government say they cannot rule out the virus affecting humans or entering the food chain because it has only just been discovered. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) are advising people to continue eating lamb, stating only 'any risk to consumers is likely to be low'.** Leading animal group Viva! are calling on the FSA to conduct further research into the virus as a matter of urgency. Founder & director, Juliet Gellatley, says: “Consumers need clarification on whether eating potentially infected lamb poses any risk to their health at all - it is not good enough to just say any danger is likely to be low. “We have heard this message before with vague warnings issued around bird flu and BSE, so people are right to be concerned. The government need to give more reassurance that every effort is being made to prevent further spread of this disease and to protect consumers, which is already causing massive animal suffering and posing a potential threat to human health. “Anyone concerned about contracting SBV should cut out eating lamb and opt for a vegetarian diet instead. ENDS * http://vla.defra.gov.uk/science/sci_schmallenberg.htm **http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/9555950.Sussex_farms_hit_by_deadly_virus/ ENDS For more information about this media release, contact press officer Helen Rossiter or Justin Kerswell, by calling 0117 944 1000 or email email@example.com or Justin@viva.org.uk. Hi-res images available upon request.