Farmers are being urged to be vigilant for signs of Bluetongue virus (BTV) and consider vaccinating their livestock after BTV-8 was detected in cattle in a previously disease-free area of northern France.
Bluetongue virus is transmitted by midges and can infect all ruminants, particularly sheep and cattle. It can reduce milk yield, cause sickness, reduce reproductive performance or, in the most severe cases, cause death in adult animals.
It does not affect people, and meat and milk from infected animals are safe to eat and drink.
Vaccination is the best way to protect livestock and a safe and effective vaccine is available in Great Britain. Livestock keepers—particularly those on the Kent and Sussex coastline—should discuss with their vet if vaccination is an option which would benefit their business.
The holding where the virus was detected in northern France is less than 150km from the south coast of England. Farmers across the south of England in particular should look out for clinical signs of disease, including mouth ulcers; drooling; swelling of the mouth, head and neck; fever; lameness and breathing problems. Any suspicion of disease must be reported immediately to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) on 03000 200 301.
The latest expert assessment, published today by Defra, is that the risk of an outbreak of Bluetongue virus in the UK is currently low, but will change as we move into summer. The risk of incursion via infected midges later in the summer depends on the level of disease on the continent, proximity to the UK, the vaccination status of animals in the UK and weather conditions.
UK Chief Veterinary Officer Nigel Gibbens said: “Bluetongue does not pose a threat to human health or food safety, but can have a negative impact on farm incomes, for example by causing reduced milk yield in cows and infertility in sheep.
“We have robust disease surveillance procedures and continue to carefully monitor the situation in France, where Bluetongue disease control measures are in place.
“Our latest assessment shows the risk of outbreak in the UK is currently low, but the detection of the virus in northern France is a timely reminder for farmers to remain vigilant for disease and report any suspicions to the Animal and Plant Health Agency. I would also encourage farmers to talk to their vet to consider if vaccination would benefit their business.”
More information about Bluetongue—including veterinary advice and information on the vaccine—is available from the Joint campaign Against Bluetongue (JAB).
Regular risk assessments will be published on GOV.UK and all disease control measures are kept under review based on the latest scientific evidence and veterinary advice.