Vigilance urged following bluetongue near-miss

Farmers have been urged to remain vigilant for signs of bluetongue after the disease was detected in cattle imported from France. 

The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) identified bluetongue virus BTV-8 in cattle after they were brought to Preston and Kendal in England and Dumfries and Stirling in Scotland.

A total of 32 animals came from the same assembly centre in France, in an area where multiple cases of bluetongue have been confirmed since September this year. The disease was picked up though the UK’s surveillance procedures.

Action is being taken to ensure there is no spread of the disease, with movement restrictions at the affected premises, targeted surveillance and the humane culling of animals where necessary.

Farmers will have the option to send those animals without fully compliant paperwork back to France or to cull them to reduce the risk of disease spreading to susceptible UK livestock, while movement restrictions will be in place on the premises for several weeks until testing rules out spread via local midges.

Despite the UK remaining officially bluetongue-free and exports not being affected, the UK’s chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens has urged farmers to remain vigilant for signs of bluetongue virus. The UK has been officially free from the disease since July 2011.

He said: “Bluetongue does not pose a threat to human health or food safety, but can cause severe disease in some cases or have a negative impact on farm incomes, for example by causing reduced milk yield in cows and infertility in sheep. We continue to carefully monitor the situation in France, where bluetongue disease control measures are in place.

“This detection is a good example of robust disease surveillance procedures in action and should highlight to farmers the risks which come with bringing animals from disease-affected areas into their herds.

“It is also a timely reminder for farmers that the disease is still a threat, despite coming towards the end of the period when midges are most active. Keepers must remain vigilant and report any suspicions to APHA. They may also want to talk to their vet to consider if vaccination would benefit their business.”

Chief veterinary officer for Scotland, Sheila Voas added: “Bluetongue does not pose a threat to human health or food safety, but can have a severe impact on affected farms.

“We are working closely with affected farms and stakeholders to contain the virus. While I am pleased our robust disease surveillance procedures have worked, the identification offers a timely reminder to farmers for the need to remain vigilant and of the risks of importing animals from disease-affected areas into their herds.”

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has also called for renewed vigilance and responsible sourcing following the detection.

BVA senior vice-president Gudrun Ravetz said: “It is reassuring that the systems we have in place for post-movement testing have ensured the disease has been detected quickly, and that action has been taken.

“However, it is a grave and timely reminder to all livestock-keepers of the importance of responsible sourcing of animals, and of fully understanding the potential disease risks of importing animals from areas where disease is known to be circulating. 

“Farmers should always consult their local vet and act within their farm health plan when sourcing new animals.

“Bluetongue virus is spread via infected midges and, with the mild weather we have been experiencing in the UK this autumn, it is essential that farmers, vets and government agencies remain vigilant to the threat of disease spread.

“Signs of the disease include eye and nasal discharge, drooling, swelling around the head or mouth, lethargy and lameness. BTV-8 does not pose a threat to human health, but can have a negative impact on animal health for example by causing infertility or reduced milk yields.”

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