Bluetongue disease control framework set out   - Veterinary Practice
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 Bluetongue disease control framework set out  

New disease control framework to help manage Bluetongue virus (BTV-3) launched

The government has set out on 23 May how it will work with the farming industry to manage an outbreak of bluetongue virus in England this year.

Bluetongue virus is primarily transmitted by biting midges (Culicoides species) and affects cattle, sheep and other ruminants such as goats and deer, as well as camelids such as llamas and alpacas. The virus does not affect people or food safety. 

The Bluetongue Serotype 3 Disease Control Framework was developed in discussion with the farming industry. It sets out how disease control efforts will focus on movement control of susceptible animals and their germinal products (semen, eggs, ova and embryos) as a precautionary tool to stem the spread of the disease until a safe and effective vaccine for bluetongue virus serotype 3 (BTV-3) becomes widely available.  

The government is working hard to facilitate safe access to a BTV-3 vaccine as soon as possible, including actively engaging with vaccine manufacturers. However, it is vital that any vaccine has the confidence of industry, consumers and trading partners.  

This includes understanding the efficacy of any vaccine, together with potential impacts on trade – a view shared by industry. Defra is actively monitoring vaccine data from EU countries and will continue to work with industry on any decisions on the use of a deployable vaccine. 

Farmers should continue to monitor their animals frequently and ensure their livestock and land are registered with APHA with up-to-date contact details so animals can be located in the event of an outbreak.

Biosecurity Minister Lord Douglas Miller said: “It is vital that we proactively plan and prepare for any potential bluetongue incursion and outbreak so that the impact on farmers and livestock keepers can be minimised as far as possible.

“We are actively engaging with vaccine manufacturers and industry about access to a safe and effective BTV-3 vaccine that has undergone thorough due diligence.

“All disease control decisions will be kept under constant review to ensure they remain proportionate and as effective as possible in controlling the spread of the disease.”

Chief veterinary officer Dr Christine Middlemiss said: “The Bluetongue Disease Control Framework sets out how we will work to minimise the impact of a potential outbreak of disease, using the latest scientific and veterinary advice to reduce disease transmission as much as possible.

“We know that the likelihood of bluetongue virus entering Great Britain is increasing and so I would urge farmers to remain vigilant and report any suspicions to the Animal and Plant Health Agency.”   

Animal and Plant Health Agency chief executive David Holdsworth said: “The Animal and Plant Health Agency’s world-leading scientists, vets and field teams stand ready to tackle an outbreak of bluetongue virus, and the deployment of APHA resources will be adapted to ensure the approach remains appropriate and proportionate.

“We will continue to work closely with farmers and animal keepers to ensure they are kept up to date and supported during any outbreak.” 

The Framework confirms that upon first detection of disease in England, 20km movement control zones will likely be established to prevent the movement of potentially infected animals and germinal products transporting disease to new locations.  

Movement control zones will be no bigger than necessary to contain and slow disease spread. They will be constantly reviewed and modified or withdrawn when they are no longer proportionate if disease circulation becomes widespread. Movement of animals within zones and moves to slaughter will be permitted.  

Free testing will be offered for animals moving from the highest-risk countries to live elsewhere in Great Britain to help guard against animal movements potentially transporting undetected diseases to new areas. Tests will become available once the risk level increases.

Upon first detection of bluetongue virus, if there appears to be limited local spread, bluetongue control zones will be put in place alongside limited culling of infected animals to contain and eradicate the disease. Keepers will be compensated the market value for any animals culled.

However, culling infected animals will be limited as once bluetongue is known to be circulating in biting midges in an area, culling livestock is not an effective control measure. 

The trajectory of any outbreak is difficult to predict, but there is an active surveillance programme running. This programme involves trapping midges across the country and working with partners such as the Met Office to monitor the likely spread of the virus based on temperature and wind patterns. The situation will be kept under constant review, and the views of the industry will be routinely sought. 

The Framework follows the recent publication of APHA’s latest risk assessment of bluetongue virus entering Great Britain during 2024, which confirmed there is a very high probability of a new introduction of this strain of the virus into livestock in GB through infected biting midges being blown over from northern Europe. 

Last November, APHA and The Pirbright Institute identified the first case of the disease in Great Britain through the annual bluetongue surveillance programme. Since then, 126 bluetongue cases have been confirmed in England across 73 premises in 4 counties, with the last case confirmed on 8 March 2024. As of today, there are no live cases of the bluetongue virus. All cases confirmed to date have been detected through active surveillance, with the animals likely infected in late autumn 2023. 

Due to their proximity to areas in northern Europe, where bluetongue is present, counties along the south and east coasts of England, including Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Kent, and East Sussex, are considered most likely to be impacted by a wind-borne incursion of biting midges, but these could change if the disease spreads in northern Europe. 

Bluetongue virus is a notifiable disease. If you suspect bluetongue virus in animals, call the Animal and Plant Health Agency on 03000 200 301 in England, 03003 038 268 in Wales, and the local Field Services Office in Scotland.   

Farmers should continue to be vigilant and monitor their animals frequently while maintaining up-to-date registrations for all livestock, land and buildings used to keep livestock, even short-term lets, so the location of susceptible animals can be traced to help prevent and control disease. Find out when and how to apply for temporary land arrangements (TLA) or a temporary CPH (tCPH). 

Farmers must also be aware of any movement restrictions in place before moving animals. More advice can be found on the website.

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