Natural Infection of Pregnant Cows with Schmallenberg Virus – A Follow-Up Study
Schmallenberg virus (SBV), an orthobunyavirus discovered in European livestock in late 2011 for the first time, causes premature or stillbirth and severe fetal malformation when cows and ewes are infected during pregnancy. Therefore, cattle of two holdings in the initially most affected area in Germany were closely monitored to describe the consequence for fetuses and newborn calves. Seventy-one calves whose mothers were naturally infected during the first five months of pregnancy were clinically, virologically, and serologically examined. One calve showed typical malformation, another one, born without visible abnormalities, was dead. Two cows aborted during the studied period; spleen and brain samples or meconium swabs were tested by real-time PCR, in none of the fetuses SBV-specific RNA was detectable and the tested fetal sera were negative in a commercially available antibody ELISA. In contrast, in nine clinically healthy calves high SBV-antibody titers were measurable before colostrum intake, and in meconium swabs of six of these animals viral RNA was present as well. The mothers of all nine seropositive calves were presumably infected between days 47 and 162 of gestation, which is within the critical timeframe for fetal infection suggested for SBV and related viruses.