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Health & Welfare Bulletin No.21 : Bluetongue


Following the discovery of Blue Tongue Disease (BTV) in England in 2007, no new cases of circulating disease have been found in 2008.  This has been primarily due to the very successful vaccination campaign during 2008.  It is estimated that over 90% of susceptible animals in East and South East England have been vaccinated.  However, the uptake of vaccine has been much lower in other parts of the country and the overall coverage in the whole of England is thought to be only about 60%.  Wales and Scotland have been running separate vaccination campaigns and there are no data yet on the coverage in those two countries.
There is a risk that the farming community might become complacent, thinking that BTV in Britain has been beaten and that there is no need to vaccinate again in 2009.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  One only needs to look at the latest map of BTV throughout Europe to see that the risk is not only still present but even greater than ever.  BTV.8, the serotype found in England, has spread throughout most of Western Europe, with the exception of the Republic of Ireland and Portugal.  It has spread as far south as Spain and Italy, north to Sweden and east to Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.  Even more worryingly, BTV.1 has now spread to north-western France and BTV.6 has been found in The Netherlands.  There is no vaccine available against BTV.6 and there is no cross-immunity between BTV.8 and BTV.1 or BTV.6.
Britain therefore remains at risk of re-introducing BTV.8 and of introducing BTV.1 and BTV.6 either by cross-Channel spread of vectors (which is how BTV.8 reached us last year) or by the legitimate trade in animals imported from other EU Member States.  To control those risks, the British farming community therefore needs to:

  • Carry on vaccinating against BTV.8 during 2009, giving boosters to all animals vaccinated during 2008, preferably before the vector becomes active in the Spring, and by vaccinating any animals born during 2009.
  • Be very careful not to import disease when importing animals.
Because the BTV Protection Zone that covers all of mainland Britain is confluent with the BTV.8 PZ in Europe, there are no BTV-related restrictions applying to imports of live animals from within that PZ.  In effect, it is just the same as moving animals from Kent to Lancashire.
However, there are risks in doing this as has been shown by the post-importation testing carried out by Defra.  In 2008, at least 10 groups of imported animals have been found to be positive to BTV.8 virus and on 25 November, it was announced that a group of cattle imported from south west France were positive to BTV.1 virus.  Fortunately, there has been no evidence that any virus circulated from these imported animals to other animals in the country and, in effect, we got away with it.  But there is no doubt that these importations not only endanger our livestock industry and our exports but they are widely reported and give a dreadful image to the wider world.
The importation of BTV.1 infected animals has stimulated a widespread call from both veterinarians and farming groups to the livestock industry to stop importing animals from mainland Europe.  After months of urging members to take care with European imports, the president of the NFU, Peter Kendall, has now called for an official ban. The President of the British Veterinary Association, Nicky Paull, feels the same way: “To me, it is very straightforward – stop importing from areas where the bluetongue virus is known to be circulating.” 
There are legitimate reasons why the British livestock industry wishes to import animals but the message is loud and clear: Either make sure the imported animals are protected from BTV disease or risk having a complete ban imposed.
Minimum precautions:
All an importer needs to do is go back to the movement restrictions that were in place in the UK in the spring of 2008, when the vaccination campaign had begun and the PZ was limited to the south and east of England.  At that time, to move animals from within the PZ to the Free Areas in the rest of Great Britain or for export:
1. The animals had to be vaccinated by a veterinary surgeon and be accompanied by a veterinary certificate of vaccination stating that: “I, the undersigned, being a veterinary surgeon, certify that I vaccinated the animals identified above….” giving details of the vaccine used and the date(s) the animals were vaccinated.
2. Either the full vaccination course had to be completed more than 60 days before the date of movement;
Or             (i) The full vaccination course had to be completed at least 21 days before the date of movement, AND
(ii) The animals were subjected to an agent identification PCR test with negative results, carried out at least 35 days after the full vaccination course was completed.
Please be responsible.  BLG urges all its members who are planning to import animals from areas of Europe where BTV virus is known to be circulating to act responsibly and insist on:
1.    A veterinary certificate of vaccination.
2.    An agent identification PCR test with negative results, carried out at least 35 days after the full vaccination course was completed.
By acting responsibly ourselves and urging our friends, colleagues and neighbours to do likewise, we not only improve the chances of protecting the British livestock industry from imported disease but also of negating the siren calls from others to ban all imports.
Andrew J Taylor BA VetMB MRCVS. Chairman: BLG  (British Livestock Genetics Consortium Ltd)
If you have queries, concerns or feedback on any of these issues, please contact Liz Butler:, or 01737 823375.