Farmers in England’s southeast and it’s surrounding areas have been urged to be vigilant for bluetongue virus (BTV) on their farms.

This warning from the UK’s chief veterinary officer, Christine Middlemiss, follows the news of the seven cases being detected in Kent.

The first case of BTV was identified by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) and the Pirbright Institute on November 11, by using Britain’s annual bluetongue surveillance programme. As of today (Wednesday, December 6), a further six cases have been identified since.

The two most recent cases detected have been linked to a holding with previously confirmed cases of BTV serotype 3 (BTV-3).

A temporary control zone has been put in place around the affected farms, restricting the movement of susceptible animals except under licence.

To reduce the risk of onward disease transmission, the infected animals have been culled.

Middlemass said: “This detection is an example of our robust disease surveillance procedures in action, and it is also a clear reminder for farmers that the disease remains a threat, despite coming towards the end of the midge activity season.”

Rules on movement

A temporary control zone (TZC) has been put in place around the affected farms, restricting the movement of susceptible animals except under licence.

Strict rules on the movement of livestock from regions affected by bluetongue remain in place. Farmers are reminded that animals imported from these regions must be accompanied by the relevant paperwork, to clearly show they meet certain conditions designed to reduce disease risk, e.g., correct vaccination.

NI and GB ruminants cannot be exported from a GB Assembly Centre to the European Union, or moved to NI until further notice.

Dr. Joseph Henry, chair of the Ruminant Health and Welfare (RH&W) bluetongue working group, said:

“All of the additional confirmed cases have been on holdings within the TCZ that surrounds the original case found near Canterbury, Kent – all cases have been, or will be humanely culled to minimise any risk of onward transmission.

“It’s in the industry’s interest to get this testing done as quickly as possible so that we can resume normal trade and we really hope farmers help in facilitating this.

“On-going surveillance of all livestock will continue in the newly expanded TCZ, please ensure your animals are registered – it’s never too late to officially register your stock.”

BTV effects

Humans need not worry, as bluetongue virus does not affect people or food safety. The virus is transmitted primarily through midges and affects cows, goats, sheep and llamas.

Farmers should pay particular attention to livestock between April and November, as midges are most active during this time period.

The symptoms can be vastly different, depending on the animal. Some show no symptoms at all, while others can experience:

  • Productivity issues such as reduced milk yield;
  • Lameness;
  • Redness or ulcers around the mouth, nose, or eyes;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Abortion;
  • In severe cases, fatality can occur.

Farmers are urged to report any suspicions to the APHA promptly, in order to reduce the risk of disease transmission.