Farmers warned as Bluetongue nears Great Britain

Farmers are being warned to be vigilant of the Bluetongue virus (BTV), as the disease edges its way closer to British shores. 

Livestock keepers have been advised to vaccinate animals after BTV-8 was detected in cattle in a previously disease-free area of northern France.

The disease can infect all ruminants, especially sheep and cattle, and is transmitted by midges. As a result, animals can experience reduced milk yield, sickness and reduced reproductive performance. In the most severe cases, it can even lead to death. It does not affect people and meat and milk from infected animals remains safe for consumption.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has said that the best way to avoid animals falling ill is by vaccination, with a safe and effective form available in Great Britain. Farmers on the Kent and Sussex coastline have been identified as being particularly vulnerable, and should discuss with their vet if vaccination is an option that would benefit their business.

The disease has been detected at a French holding less than 150km, or 93 miles, from the south coast of England. Farmers in the area have been told they 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 the disease should immediately be reported to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) on 03000 200 301.

“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,” said UK chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens. “We have robust disease surveillance procedures and continue to carefully monitor the situation in France, where Bluetongue disease control measures are in place.”

According to Defra’s latest expert assessment, the risk of an outbreak occurring in the UK is currently low. However, this will change as we move into summer. The risk of infection 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.

“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,” continued Gibbens. “I would also encourage farmers to talk to their vet to consider if vaccination would benefit their business.”

Regular risk assessments will be published on GOV.UK. Disease control measures are kept under review dependent on latest scientific evidence and veterinary advice.

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