Guidance for livestock keepers
Bluetongue disease is caused by a virus transmitted by biting midges, which are most active between May and October. Bluetongue virus can infect all ruminants (e.g. sheep, cattle, goats and deer) and camelids (e.g. llama and alpaca). The UK is currently at a low risk of an outbreak of bluetongue, but it is expected that by July the risk will increase to 30-60% and by September there will be an 80% chance of the disease in the UK.
Sheep are most severely affected by the disease. Cattle, although infected more frequently than sheep, do not always show signs of the disease.
Risk from imported animals is currently low, due to testing of the animal prior to being exported so the most likely route to infection in the UK is through infected midge flies through wind travel from France to the UK. France is currently experiencing widespread infections, and therefore the threat to UK shores.
In France there has historically had a low level of virus circulation, meaning that clinical signs of Bluetongue are reduced through livestock’s immune systems being more immune to the disease. UK livestock do not have the same immunity to the disease and therefore we are likely to see considerable clinical disease incidence.
The cost on farm to UK farmers will be extremely high if there is an outbreak. As UK cattle are not resistant we are more likely to see a reduction of yield, weight loss, low fertility increased vets bills and death.
DEFRA have modelled risk to the UK using 2008s model system. This looks at midge fly surveillance by catching the fly and testing for the disease. APHA are carrying out bulk milk testing. Vaccine is the most effective way to control the disease.
On Friday 3rd June, two companies confirmed they will produce a vaccine which will be available to farmers from mid-July. This will be a two jab vaccine, which then gives cover from three weeks after the 2nd jab.
The last vaccine campaign was successful in controlling the disease, in 2008. The bluetongue strain is the same as the last outbreak in 2008 but the protection in previously vaccinated animals will be very low. Please download a bluetongue leaflet here.
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