I’ve received a text from DEFRA telling me that Bluetongue Virus is in the UK. What is Bluetongue virus and why do we need to know about it?
Bluetongue Virus (BTV) is a virus which affects cattle, sheep, other ruminants such as goats and deer, and camelids (such as alpaca and llamas). It causes severe symptoms including fatalities in some circumstances and is therefore classed as notifiable. Animals can only become infected with BTV through bites from midges infected with the virus. It’s a very specific midge so only when this population becomes infected are animal populations at risk. There are many different types of BTV and types 3,4 and 8 are currently circulating in Europe. The last time BTV was in the UK was in 2007 (BTV-8) but incursions from the continent happen with weather conditions make it possible. The current outbreak is BTV-3.
What are the clinical signs of BTV in cattle, sheep, goats, deer and camelids?
There are some really nice resources available at DEFRA GUIDANCE BTV (2023) including an image library. Remember, you are required to report a case on suspicion of BTV. Whilst there are many other plausible conditions which may look similar, better for a vet to decipher this ASAP.
Here’s our quick guide as the signs vary depending on which animal type we are dealing with:
(If cow infected before birth)
|Ulcers or sores in the mouth and nose||Lethargy||Calves born small, weak, deformed, or blind|
|Discharge from the eyes or nose and drooling||Crusty erosions around the nostrils and muzzle||Death of calves within a few days of birth|
|Swelling of the lips, tongue, head, neck, and the coronary band of the foot||Redness of the skin about the hoof|
|Fever||Redness of the mouth, eyes, nose|
|Breathing difficulty||Reddening and sores on the teats|
What does notifiable mean?
When a disease is notifiable it means that both the farmer and their vet are required by law to let APHA know when they are suspicious of the disease. It is really important to protect not only the neighboring farms but the wider industry. Given our concern about BTV, APHA also does routine surveillance in the background, checking for disease. The text you received was triggered by an animal tested under routine surveillance- an early warning system in action. Future messages could be in relation to routine surveillance positives or confirmed clinical cases. It might feel daunting to call a vet for concern about a notifiable disease, but invariably the signs you have noticed are likely to be compromising animal health and welfare and need veterinary support even if they aren’t due to BTV. The sooner a notifiable disease is identified, the sooner we can protect the livestock we work with.
The text said the case was in Canterbury- what are the implications for me here within the Synergy patch?
As it currently stands, movement restrictions have been placed on flocks and herds within 10km of the infected farm. There is an inner ring of particularly high surveillance (3km). These movement restrictions do not currently extend to the wider industry. So, for us, currently no action. However, it is important that we take this opportunity to familiarise ourselves with the clinical signs of BTV and extend our vigilance.
Those exporting stock, will have found exports have ceased. Animal product exports continue.
What can I do to protect my stock against BTV?
Unfortunately, there are no vaccines available for BTV-3 vaccine in the UK and Europe although the wider market is being explored. Many will remember the 2007 outbreak and mass vaccination for BTV-8. Whilst there is some overlap of immunity between some strains, there is not recognised immunity between BTV-3 and BTV-8. As it stands no vaccination strategy is available, but we are further investigating this.
However, there are things you could be doing which might increase the risk. Good needle management when treating animals (i.e. single use where appropriate) can reduce the risk of transmission. For those buying stock, be aware this may pose the risk of introducing an animal currently infected with the virus. Closing the herd/flock will not be an option for many, and isolation may have limited benefits given the role of the midge, but increased vigilance is prudent and for those in isolation is always advisable.
A saving grace for November 2023 is that the daily average temperatures are dropping. This will not be compatible with ongoing midge activity and hopefully gives us a reprieve for now. We will need a national strategy for Spring 2024, and given the virus’ position in Europe, this is likely to be an ongoing challenge we will face. Rest assured, this is a priority for our teams and we will bring you updates as soon as we can.
What should I do if I suspect BTV?
If you are suspicious of BTV, Isolate the animal(s) then please ring our practice on 01935 83682. You will be directed to a vet who will attend and contact APHA accordingly.
We are here to help you 😊