Biosecurity

UK and European farmers hit by new bluetongue virus strain

Sheep Central, January 25, 2024

Sheep and lambs in the United Kingdom. Picture: NSA.

UNITED Kingdom and European cattle and sheep have been hit by a new strain of bluetongue virus for which there is no vaccine.

The National Farmers Union has said outbreaks of BTV-3 have been reported across The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

And the Animal and Plant Health Agency has recorded 55 bluetongue cases on 32 farms in Kent, Norfolk and Suffolk since 11 November 2023. Ten kilometre temporary control zones are in place in Kent and Norfolk.

The NFU said the Netherlands is the most impacted, with more than 1400 clinically positive cases and more than 3500 PCR positive cases in sheep and cattle as of November 2023. Mortality rates in sheep have reportedly 35-50 percent.

Four cases have been reported in Belgium, whilst fifteen cases have been reported in Germany.

Bluetongue virus is a Category C listed disease under EU Animal Health Law. The impacted member states are calling for swift development of an effective vaccine for the new strain. The NFU said Ttere is a vaccine for other strains of BTV, including BTV-8, 2 and 4, which is used in France for export purposes, but this does not provide any cross protection for BTV-3.

The NFU said there is currently no evidence that there is circulating virus in the UK, but surveillance is ongoing and there are concerns that warmer weather in the UK might cause an increase in bluetongue and Schmallenberg virus cases, that are transmitted by biting Culicoides midges.

The Farmers Weekly in the UK has reported that Schmallenberg virus is also affecting an increasing number of early lambing sheep flocks across many English counties and in Wales. The virus causes congenital malformations and stillbirths in cattle, sheep and goats.

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