A virus that causes fever in cattle and sheep was detected for the first time in Northern Ireland today.

Britain’s Department of Agriculture said tests on a malformed calf in Co Down had found traces of Schmallenberg Virus.

Another calf from the same herd tested negative but has displayed signs consistent with those associated with the disease, the department said.

Schmallenberg can cause fever and diarrhoea in cows and sheep.

If ruminant animals become infected when pregnant, it can also cause congenital disorders, stillbirths and abortions.

The virus is not thought to affect humans.

Scientific evidence from Europe suggests that the disease is spread by midges. The department warned that if Schmallenberg Virus is present in the local midge population then more cases are likely to emerge.

Yesterday, the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine reported the Republic’s first case in Co Cork.

Stormont Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill said: "These developments are unsurprising, given the rapid spread of the virus across northern Europe and large parts of Britain since it was first identified.

"While Schmallenberg Virus is recognised as a low impact disease, I appreciate the distress that it causes at an individual farm level. Any losses as a result of this disease are regrettable. I would encourage farmers if they suspect presence of the disease to contact their veterinary practitioner.

“Suspect cases that meet the clinical case definition will be investigated by AFBI."

Schmallenberg Virus was first detected in Germany in late 2011. Since then the infection has been found in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland. Austria, Finland, Poland and Sweden.

There is currently no commercially-available vaccine.