Farmers on alert as hot weather raises fears of bluetongue revival

Farmers on alert as hot weather raises fears of bluetongue revival

With summer temperatures rising across the UK, farmers are facing a renewed concern: the potential return of bluetongue, a notifiable viral disease.

This virus, primarily spread by midges, can infect cattle, sheep, other ruminant animals and camelids, such as llamas and alpacas.

The worry stems from the recent outbreaks of bluetongue, which started in November 2023, the country's first case in 16 years. Since then 126 cases have been confirmed in England at 73 premises across Kent, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex with the last case recorded on the 8th March 2024.

Scientists have now warned that the midges carrying the virus become more active in warmer weather, raising the possibility that the disease could spread further if the infected insects are blown in from continental Europe, making Kent, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Sussex high risk counties.

The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) already declared a "very high" risk of bluetongue entering Great Britain again this year, putting farmers, particularly those in counties previously affected, on high alert. The National Farmers Union (NFU) is urging its members to be vigilant and to familiarise themselves with the signs of bluetongue. Companies such as Livetec Systems are also encouraging farmers to be aware of protection and surveillance zones, and apply strict biosecurity measures to reduce their risks of disease incursion and spread.

The government is also on alert. Dr Christine Middlemiss, Chief Veterinary Officer said “Our robust surveillance systems show we have now entered the period where biting midges are more active, and we know that the likelihood of bluetongue virus entering Great Britain is increasing.”

The Netherlands have recently approved a new vaccine for bluetongue virus serotype 3 (BTV-3), a move which Dutch farmers welcome, after suffering significant losses last year.

The UK however, is yet to approve a vaccine. Lord Douglas Miller, the Biosecurity Minister said “Once the risk of transmission increases, we will also be offering free bluetongue tests to keepers in high-risk counties and we are actively engaging with vaccine manufacturers on the development of a BTV-3 vaccine for use in the UK.”

Currently there are no movement restrictions in place but early detection is key. So if you suspect bluetongue in your animals you must report it immediately to APHA. Swift action can stop the disease from spreading and will protect the nation's herds.

Thanks to John Hinds at Shard for this article and image.

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