Bluetongue comes to UK

Testing for foot and mouth disease (FMD) has led to the first confirmed case of the bluetongue virus on a farm near Ipswich. The virus, found in a highland cow on the site, does not harm humans but can be fatal to sheep, and affect the milk yields in cows. It is transferred by midges and other biting insects; Defra has said that the case will not be classified as an outbreak until the virus is found in an insect on the site.

The cow, named Debbie, was removed and culled yesterday, and scientists are urging caution from farmers and livestock owners: ‘It remains vitally important that farmers maintain vigilance for this disease and report any suspect cases, particularly as clinical signs may be similar to foot and mouth disease,’ said Chief Veterinary Officer Debbie Reynolds.

Indeed this diagnosis comes as another case of FMD was found on a farm within the control zone in Surrey, and cattle were duly culled there at the weekend, bringing the total number of farms the disease has been found on to six.

Peter Kendall from the National Farmers’ Union said he wasn’t unduly concerned yet bluetongue: ‘I’m optimistic that this can be quite an isolated localised case, and going into winter these midges aren’t as active as they would be if this had happened two or three months ago,’ he said.

However, President of the British Veterinary Association David Catlow said back in August that the disease was a very real threat: ‘The current threat to UK livestock is very real and it is important that rigorous measures to keep disease out of the UK are maintained and that the industry remains vigilant,’ he said at the time. ‘Should Bluetongue arrive there is an agreed strategy to contain the disease, however if it becomes widespread then we will have to focus on reducing the impact of the disease whilst living with it.’

For now, tests are ongoing to see whether there are any other cases in the area, in either insects or animals.