Vets issue Bluetongue reminder ahead of midge season

Leading sheep vets have reminded farmers to be vigilant for clinical signs of Bluetongue virus (BTV) in herds or flocks as warmer weather and midges approach.

The Sheep Veterinary Society (SVS) has issued guidance on identifying Bluetongue, alongside a Defra reminder that the usual midge season runs from April to November in the UK and that BTV is spread by the culicoides midge.  

See also: Advice on bluetongue risk and vaccination

Cattle are the main carriers of the virus but often show few or no symptoms, but the SVS says clinical signs in sheep may include:

  • Mouth ulcers
  • Mucus discharge
  • Swelling of the head and neck
  • Red skin
  • Lameness

See also: How to protect your flock from clostridial diseases and pasteurella

The warning follows a rise in BTV cases this winter across Switzerland, France, Germany and other EU countries since BTV spread across the Balkans from Greece in 2014.

The two strains of the virus circulating around mainland France are BTV-4 AND BTV-8, according to Defra’s latest disease update.

Belgium is also under “restricted zone” status after authorities confirmed that BTV-8 was present in the country.

Defra has reminded farmers that vaccination can take six weeks to achieve immunity as two injections are required, three weeks apart.

Importing animals

Defra has said that any farms importing livestock from BTV-infected countries should:

  • Ensure animals have been vaccinated against the right BTV strains
  • Consider guarantees, such as a pre-export test to prove BTV immunity
  • Consider vaccinating existing stock against relevant strains before importing new animals

Notifiable disease

Bluetongue is a notifiable animal disease

If you suspect an animal has it you must get it confirmed by a veterinarian. You can call your own vet or the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301. In Wales, contact 0300 303 8268. In Scotland, contact your local Field Services Office. Failure to do so is an offence.

Once confirmed by veterinary diagnosis, either a farmer or veterinarian can contact the divisional veterinary manager at the local Animal Health Office.