Farmers told to remain vigilant over bluetongue concerns

British farmers have been urged to closely monitor their sheep flocks carefully by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). The news comes in light of the ongoing presence of bluetongue virus (BTV) in France. 

Farmers have been advised to report any clinical signs of disease immediately, following the latest assessment from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) which revealed that the UK is exposed to an outbreak during the spring and summer months. An outbreak in late summer is reported to be the most likely time when British sheep could contract BTV. This would be the result of infected midges being blown across from France to the south east of England.

The industry has been reassured that actions have been taken to prevent the country’s flock from catching the sickness.

“We have robust disease surveillance procedures in place and are working closely with the livestock industry to carefully monitor the situation in France where bluetongue disease control measures are in place,” explained government deputy chief vet Simon Hall.

“The risk of incursion from infected midges is difficult to predict at this stage because it is highly dependent on the level of disease on the continent, the proximity to the UK and the weather.

Animal keepers should remain vigilant for any signs of disease and report any suspicions to their vet and the Animal and Plant Health Agency immediately. Livestock keepers should also consider with their vet if vaccination is an option which would benefit their business.”

Bluetongue can cause illness in domestic and wild ruminants such as sheep, cattle, goats, deer, llamas and alpacas, but does not affect people, meat or any other animal products including milk.

The risk of incursion in the UK is highly dependent on the level of disease on the continent, the proximity to the UK of cases in the rest of Europe and the weather, including temperature and wind direction.

“We strongly encourage all farmers to closely monitor their stock for bluetongue symptoms – particularly sheep that are most susceptible to the disease – including eye and nasal discharge, drooling, swelling around the head or mouth, lethargy and lameness,” commented the British Veterinary Association’s (BVA) senior vice-president, Professor John Blackwell.

“Vets are there to support farmers in protecting the health and welfare of their livestock. We’d recommend farmers speak to their local vet about the benefits of vaccination, given their locality and individual circumstances, and especially if farmers have any concerns about their livestock.”

In France, restriction zones are already in place to contain the disease. If it were to find its way to the UK, similar measures, such as movement restrictions, would be put in place in line with the country’s National Control Strategy across the Devolved Administrations. Reducing the rate of the speed of the disease could subsequently reduce the impact of the disease on the business.

“Diagnostic tests used to detect the virus were developed at the Pirbright Institute so we are confident that these tests are fast and reliable,” added Professor Peter Mertens of the Pirbright Institute in Woking.

“It would appear that the virus circulating now is almost identical to the virus outbreak in 2007, therefore we know exactly what to expect and are well prepared.”

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