Bluetongue is back, causing concern for farmers

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Bluetongue is a viral disease that mostly affects cattle, sheep and deer, it can also be spotted in other animals such as goats and llamas. It’s a worry for many animal keepers across the country, and is becoming an increasing concern for farmers in the North West.

To ease these concerns, they need answers to the questions about what it is, what signs to look out for, how it affects cattle and what can be done about it.

A number of bluetongue outbreaks have been confirmed across mainland Europe, with the Netherlands having been particularly hit hard with over 1,400 clinically positive confirmed cases. Remarkably, the UK had remained free of the notifiable disease for over 16 years, until the 11th November 2023, when a case was confirmed at a farm in Canterbury, Kent, the UK saw the first confirmed case through routine surveillance.

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In the TCZ farmers will be contacted by authorities so they can enter their premises to obtain samples from the animals for testing. There will be limitations on the movement of animals including the need for a licence to permit their movement outside the TCZ.

Bluetongue is back, causing concern for farmers. Photo:  Livetec SystemsBluetongue is back, causing concern for farmers. Photo:  Livetec Systems
Bluetongue is back, causing concern for farmers. Photo: Livetec Systems

There have been no reported cases of bluetongue in the Manchester area or the North West. However, this outbreak is in its infancy and we could see it spread throughout the South and up into the North West region.

What is bluetongue?

Bluetongue is a notifiable viral disease, meaning there is a legal requirement to report suspicions of an outbreak to the authorities immediately. The disease is passed on to animals from biting insects like midges. It cannot be transmitted horizontally between the animals but vertical transmission is possible from the mother to their offspring. It does not pose a threat to humans or food safety.

What to do if a case is suspected:

Vigilance is vital. As bluetongue is a notifiable disease a suspected case must be reported to the authorities immediately.

What is the treatment for bluetongue?

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There is no treatment for bluetongue once it’s been confirmed. The only way to prevent the spread is to have all the animals culled.

Proactive vaccination can be effective. However, they only work against the serotype of the virus that they have been developed for. And there are no vaccines at the moment for the BTV-3 and BTV-4 serotypes currently in Europe.

One of the best defences against bluetongue is to be prepared for it. The disease is spreading in Southern England and farmers and animal keepers in the North West need to remain vigilant and keep aware of its progress. Tracking new cases can be done via the APHA website, or on the Livetec Systems App, created by leading biosecurity experts, Livetec Systems.