The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) is urging farmers to be vigilant for signs of bluetongue and Epizootic Haemorrhagic Disease (EHD).
The warning follows the confirmation of EHD in France, and the recent spread of bluetongue (BTV) across Europe.
EHD was confirmed for the first time in Europe in October 2022 in Italy. It has since spread to Portugal, Spain, before reaching France.
The disease affects deer most severely, but clinical cases have been reported in cattle at multiple farms in these countries.
Several strains of BTV have been circulating in Europe, with nearly 800 outbreaks confirmed.
The Netherlands reported their first outbreak of BTV since 2009 in September, followed by the Belgium authorities in October.
Last month, French authorities confirmed the presence of a new strain of the disease, BTV-8, which is causing more severe clinical signs in cattle and sheep.
DAERA is advising farmers to carefully consider the disease risks associated with sourcing animals from areas in mainland Europe where the viruses have been detected.
The department added that imported animals found to be infected with BTV will be slaughtered.
In addition, no compensation will be paid, and movement restrictions will be placed on the holding for several months while extensive surveillance is carried out to rule out further spread.
Housing and isolation of imported pregnant animals will also be required until the birth of the progeny, which must be tested with negative results before restrictions will be lifted.
Northern Ireland’s chief veterinary officer (CVO), Dr. Robert Huey said as both bluetongue and EHD are windborne vector diseases transmitted through midges, the main risk for Northern Ireland is the importation of infected animals.
“This was the case in December 2018, when the last detection of BTV was discovered in Northern Ireland, as part of the department’s routine post-import testing regime," Dr. Huey said.
“The disease was detected in a heifer imported from France to a holding in Northern Ireland.
“I would strongly encourage farmers to follow the DAERA guidance and to be aware of the significant risks and the potentially adverse consequences, both for themselves and for the industry, of importing animals from, or transiting through affected areas
“An incursion of bluetongue or Epizootic Haemorrhagic Disease to Northern Ireland would result in the loss of disease-free status which would be devastating for the industry,” he added.
DAERA has offered the following advice to farmers:
- Anyone who imports animals from a bluetongue affected area must ensure that the animals have been vaccinated against the disease prior to import;
- If the animals are pregnant, the vaccination must have been carried out so that the animal was immune before mating;
- These are legal requirements and conditions must be attested to by the certifying official veterinarian on the health certificate;
- Farmers should also consider seeking additional guarantees from the seller such as a pre-export test to prove effective immunity;
- If you choose to bring animals into Northern Ireland from a disease-free zone via a bluetongue infected zone you must ensure you comply with all the conditions on the export health certificate. This should include the treatment of animals and vehicles with an approved insecticide and ensuring all parts of the health certificate for the imported animals have been met.
Bluetongue affects all ruminants, such as cattle, goats, deer and sheep.
Symptoms may include: fever; swelling of the head and neck; lameness; inflammation of the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose and eyes; drooling; and there is often a high mortality rate.
EHD affects deer most severely, but clinical cases have been reported in cattle at multiple farms in affected European countries.