The UK government has today Thursday (May 23) set out how it will work with the farming industry to manage outbreak of bluetongue virus (BTV) in England this year.

Bluetongue virus (BTV) is a notifiable exotic disease that is primarily transmitted by midge bites (Culicoides species).

It affects ruminants like sheep, cattle, deer and goats. It also affects camelids (e.g. llamas).

The Bluetongue Serotype 3 Disease Control Framework was developed in discussion with the farming industry to set out how disease control efforts will focus on movement control of susceptible animals and their germinal products (semen, eggs, ova and embryos).

It will act as a precautionary tool to stem spread of the disease until a safe and effective vaccine for bluetongue virus serotype 3 (BTV-3) becomes widely available.  

The government is working hard to facilitate safe access to a BTV-3 vaccine as soon as possible, including actively engaging with vaccine manufacturers, but it is vital that any vaccine has the confidence of industry, consumers and trading partners.  

The Minister of Biosecurity, Lord Douglas Miller, said:

“It is vital that we proactively plan and prepare for any potential bluetongue incursion and outbreak so that the impact on farmers and livestock keepers can be minimised as far as possible. 

“We are actively engaging with vaccine manufacturers and industry about access to a safe and effective BTV-3 vaccine that has undergone thorough due diligence.

“All disease control decisions will be kept under constant review to ensure they remain proportionate and as effective as possible in controlling the spread of the disease.”

This includes understanding the efficacy of any vaccine, together with potential impacts on trade – a view shared by industry.

Bluetongue prevention

Defra is actively monitoring vaccine data from EU countries and will continue to work with industry on any decisions on use of a deployable vaccine. 

Farmers should continue to monitor their animals frequently whilst making sure their livestock and land is registered with APHA with up-to-date contact details so animals can be located in the event of an outbreak.

Chief veterinary officer, Dr. Christine Middlemiss said: “The Bluetongue Disease Control Framework sets out how we will work to minimise the impact of a potential outbreak of disease, using the latest scientific and veterinary advice to reduce disease transmission as much as possible.”

The framework confirms that upon first detection of disease in England, 20km movement control zones will likely be established to prevent the movement of potentially infected animals and germinal products transporting disease to new locations.  

Movement control zones will be no bigger than is necessary to contain and slow disease spread.

They will be kept under constant review and will be modified or withdrawn when they are no longer proportionate if disease circulation becomes widespread. 

Movement of animals within zones, as well as moves to slaughter will be permitted.  

Free testing will be offered for animals moving from the highest risk counties to live elsewhere in Great Britain to help guard against animal movements potentially transporting undetected disease to new areas. Tests will become available once the risk level increases.