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Mitigating the risk of blue tongue

DSC_0403Katie Scotter VetMB BA MRCVS

You will hopefully have seen information recently in the farming press and from DEFRA regarding the high likelihood of Bluetongue affecting us again this summer. But what is Bluetongue? What is the risk to cattle and sheep in Devon? How can we mitigate the risk? What signs should we look out for?

What is Bluetongue?

Bluetongue is a viral disease of cattle and sheep that is spread via mainly bites from infected midges. There is little direct animal to animal transfer, but bluetongue virus can cross the placenta to infect the foetus. Bluetongue is a notifiable disease, with the last cases seen in the UK in 2007.

What is the risk?

DEFRA have published that predicted risk to the UK of Bluetongue this summer is 33-60%, and up to 60-80% by the end of the summer. The virus would arrive here as it did in the 2007 outbreak, via infected midge plumes carried across the channel from Europe. As Devon is on the coast we would have an increased risk compared to counties further inland, however the greatest risk is to South East England.

How can we mitigate the risk?

There is a vaccine available from June 2016. The vaccine can be used to vaccinate cattle and sheep. Cattle require two doses 4 weeks apart and sheep require a single dose. The onset of immunity is 3 weeks after this primary course is completed. Animals may then receive an annual booster at least 2 weeks before perceived risk.

If you are considering vaccination please get in touch with us at the practice as these early vaccine stocks are limited.

What signs should we look out for?

Clinical signs include:

  • High temperature
  • Rapid breathing
  • Depression and stiff gait
  • Reddening of mucous membranes of the eyes, lips, mouth and coronary band
  • Erosions of the mouth and lips, drooling
  • Swelling of the face and nasal discharge
  • Milk drop and weight loss
  • Abortions and birth of weak calves/lambs

Clinical signs tend to be more severe in sheep with mortality approaching 70%.

DEFRA are urging cattle and sheep farmers to be vigilant for the signs of Bluetongue, in order to aid rapid identification of cases and subsequent control measures. Remember this disease is notifiable, and therefore it is an offence not to report suspicion of it immediately to the Duty Vet at APHA.

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