Wild boar populations were already known to present a disease risk by harboring porcine infections that could be spread to domestic pigs. For example, in 2011, Pig International reported a warning by veterinary experts meeting in Spain that increased numbers of wild boar and feral pigs in Europe risked transmission of the African swine fever virus to European commercial pig farms.

Little more than 12 months later and the health challenge is being stated even more strongly. A virus of great concern now is called Schmallenberg, from the name of a town in Germany near which some cows in a milking herd displayed signs of a previously unknown fever-like disease. Their symptoms appeared in the middle of 2011. By November 2011, the same virus was found to be causing problems in newborn calves and lambs in several parts of Northwest Europe.

The subsequent rapid spread of the virus among northern European ruminants has alarmed the authorities and resulted in an escalating series of control measures. Unfortunately, the possibilities for controlling dissemination have been limited by the involvement of mosquitos and similar insects. These are acting as vectors, carrying the infection from one animal to another over quite considerable distances.

Lately there have been growing fears that infection with the Schmallenburg virus (often shortened to SBV) is not restricted exclusively to ruminants. Viruses of a related type are able to infect both ruminants and pigs. The suspicion is hardening that this could be true also of SBV.

Not the least of the implications for commercial pork production in Europe is that the symptoms due to SBV would probably be almost indistinguishable from those seen with major notifiable diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease. It would further complicate the difficult task of keeping such diseases in check.

In addition, a confirmed presence of SBV in European pigs would certainly lead to import bans on meat and animals, aimed at stopping the transfer of the virus to other parts of the world. Europe, therefore, needs to act quickly both in building its knowledge base on Schmallenburg and in reducing the number of feral pigs or wild boar that could pass the virus to domestic herds. The news of the fast-tracked development of a vaccine is an added bonus.