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BVA Warns Livestock Importers About Bluetongue Infection Risk, UK

June 28, 2017

Three specialist divisions of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) issued a joint statement urging livestock farmers to be vigilant and carefully consider the risk of infections when importing cattle into the UK.

The three BVA divisions specialise in farm animal health and include the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA), the Sheep Veterinary Society (SVS) and the Goat Veterinary Society (GVS).

The vets point out that while the current risk to UK livestock is low there is a constant risk of infection from the Bluetongue virus by the importation of infected animals as well as airborne drift of infected midges across the Channel. Given that at present there is no vaccine available against Bluetongue virus Serotype 8, the strain presently in Northern Europe, and that topical insecticidal treatment has not proved to be an effective method of controlling the midge, they are urging farmers to balance the potential long-term consequences against the need to import animals. If importation is the only option measures to help reduce the risk of infection, although by no means eliminate it, they say should include avoiding transit through restricted areas, or at least non-stop transit during daylight hours only and avoiding dawn and dusk when midges are most active.

Commenting on the divisions' statement Chief Veterinary Officer, Debby Reynolds, said: "We believe the risk of infection posed to livestock by midges is slight, but we are continuing to work with the industry to try and reduce these risks further. Any measures the industry can take to reduce the risk should be welcomed and encouraged."

1. For further details, including contacts in the three BVA divisions, please contact the BVA Press Office on 020 7636 6541 or mediabva.

2. See the Defra fact sheet on Bluetongue

3. Bluetongue was found in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, in parts of Western Germany and in areas in Northern France during Summer 2006. The virus is spread by midges which transfer the virus from animal to animal by biting them. It has never occurred in the UK.

4. Bluetongue affects all ruminants, such as cattle, goats, deer and sheep. Clinical signs can vary by species - although symptoms are generally more severe in sheep, cattle can also show signs of disease (and can act as a reservoir for disease to keep infection circulating). Bluetongue is a disease of animals not humans. It is not a zoonosis and cannot infect humans.

5. Clinical signs in sheep may include: fever; swelling of the head and neck; inflammation and ulceration of the mucous membrane of the mouth, nose and eyelids; lameness; muscle degeneration and leaking of blood or serum from blood vessels into the surrounding tissues; haemorrhages in the skin and other tissues; respiratory signs such as froth in the lungs and an inability to swallow; and a high mortality rate. Sometimes, although it is rare with BTV8, there may be some discolouration and swelling of the tongue.

6. Although Bluetongue usually causes no apparent illness in cattle or goats, cattle are displaying clinical signs during the current outbreak of BTV8 in Western Europe. These have included nasal discharge, swelling and ulceration of the mouth and swollen teats.

7. Virus transmission between animals occurs via an insect vector (midges of Culicoides species), when a midge bites an infected animal and passes the infection to an uninfected naive animal. Transmission of the virus during an outbreak therefore depends on continuing cycles of infection between infected animals and vector insects. Bluetongue cannot be naturally transmitted directly between animals.