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Livestock producers are urged to remain vigilant for bluetongue with more than 50 cases of the virus now confirmed in southern and eastern England.... Remain vigilant for bluetongue virus as spring draws nearer

Livestock producers are urged to remain vigilant for bluetongue with more than 50 cases of the virus now confirmed in southern and eastern England.

Defra said there was still no evidence that bluetongue was circulating in midges in Great Britain. But surveillance remains ongoing with the number of cases reaching 53 in Norfolk, Suffolk and Kent by mid-January.

More than 400 farmers gathered to discuss the situation at a special emergency meeting  convened by the NFU and attended by Defra officials on 15 January at Dunston Hall, south of Norwich.

Three days later, a case of bluetongue was confirmed in a cow grazing the Norfolk temporary control zone designed to curtail spread of the virus. The positive animal was humanely culled to minimise the risk of onward transmission.

Restrictions

Defra said the control zone was not being extended but movement restrictions would continue to apply to cattle, sheep, deer, camelids and other ruminants in the zone. It followed a case of bluetongue in cattle on 12 January near Limpenhoe.

UK chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss urged farmers to remain vigilant for the virus – which was first identified in November through Great Britain’s annual bluetongue surveillance programme.

Although it does not affect humans, bluetongue is a notifiable disease – which means livestock producers must report any suspected cases of the virus to the Animal and Plant Health Agency.

Surveillance

Ms Middlemiss said: “Bluetongue does not pose a threat to human health or food safety, but the disease can impact livestock farms, and cause productivity issues.

“These detections are an example of our robust disease surveillance procedures in action and it is also a clear reminder for farmers that the disease remains a threat, despite coming towards the end of the midge activity season.

The virus is transmitted by midge bites and affects cows, goats, sheep and other camelids such as llamas. The midges are most active between April and November and not all susceptible animals show immediate, or any, signs of contracting the virus.”

Reduced yield

The impacts on susceptible animals can vary greatly – some show no symptoms or effects at all while for others it can cause productivity issues such as reduced milk yield, while in the most severe cases can be fatal for infected animals.

Strict rules on the movement of livestock from regions affected by bluetongue are already in place. Following confirmation of BTV in a non-imported animal in England, some trading partners may restrict exports of bluetongue susceptible animals.

Farmers are reminded that animals imported from these regions must be accompanied by relevant paperwork to clearly show they meet certain conditions designed to reduce disease risk, such as correct vaccination.

Defra issues bluetongue guidance

Bluetongue affects ruminant livestock – including sheep, cattle, deer and goats; as well as camelids such as llamas and alpacas. It can also affect dogs and other carnivores if they eat infected material – although this is rare.

The virus causes productivity issues and can be fatal. Although it does not affect people or food safety, outbreaks can result in prolonged animal movement and trade restrictions, including on imports and exports.

A number of different types (serotypes) of bluetongue are circulating in Europe. They include BTV-1, BTV-3, BTV-4 and BTV-8. The BTV-3 serotype has been found in Kent and Norfolk.

To minimise the spread of disease, Defra has placed 10km temporary control zones  around premises with infected animals. It says the TCZ may be extended if further cases are identified.

Suspected cases must be reported immediately to the Animal and Plant Health Agency on 03000 200 301. For further information, visit www.gov.uk/guidance/bluetongue