Bluetongue is an insect-borne viral disease to which all species of ruminants are susceptible, although sheep are most severely affected. It does not affect humans.

What is Bluetongue?

Bluetongue is a notifiable disease. It is a disease of animals, not humans, so there are no human or public health issues.

Bluetongue is an insect-borne viral disease to which all species of ruminants are susceptible, although sheep are most severely affected. Cattle and goats which appear healthy can carry high levels of the virus and provide a source of further infection.

The disease is caused by a virus which is transmitted by certain species of biting midges. The Culicoides species of midge which carries the infection is found in Northern Ireland.

Current situation (07/12/2018)

One animal has tested positive for Bluetongue in a batch of heifers imported from France. These cattle were part of a consignment of 9 animals imported from France to holdings across N. Ireland.

The affected farm is currently under restriction as veterinary investigations are ongoing to prevent the risk of disease spread. In addition the infected animal has been culled humanely.

This is not a confirmed outbreak as there is no evidence the disease is circulating in N. Ireland therefore at this time the UK remains officially Bluetongue free. Further details available at the following link:

In Europe, strains of bluetongue have been circulating for quite a while, however Bluetongue Serotype 8 (BTV-8) is currently affecting an extensive area of France. These are the first outbreaks of BTV-8 reported in the EU since 2011 and since 2010 in France. BTV-8 was responsible for the previous widespread outbreak of Bluetongue in Northern Europe. At present, the source of the disease is not known. BTV4 is also circulating in Austria and other parts of central Europe.

The most likely route of disease entry to Northern Ireland is currently through the import of infected animals or germplasm (semen or ova).  

All susceptible animals being imported to Northern Ireland from a Bluetongue restricted area must comply with the relevant controls in the European Bluetongue Regulation (1266/2007) for the movement of susceptible animals from restricted zones. 

In addition, there is a requirement that breeding and production animals imported from Bluetongue restricted zones will be isolated and restricted on farm until DAERA is assured through post import testing that Bluetongue virus is not present. Post import testing has currently been extended to include all susceptible animals imported from bluetongue affected countries and countries at risk. The Department will keep this position under review as further information on the disease situation on mainland Europe becomes available.

For more information on the current trade conditions including the import of direct slaughter animals, please click on the links at the bottom of the page or contact Trade Section.

The Department would urge farmers to think carefully before importing cattle especially from Bluetongue affected areas. It is a timely reminder for all livestock keepers to maintain good levels of biosecurity and to remain vigilant for any signs of disease on their farms. For more information see Bluetongue advice leaflet

It is important that farmers report early any suspicions of disease to their Private Veterinary Practitioner (PVP) or to the DAERA Helpline promptly on 0300 200 7840 or by contacting their local DAERA Direct Regional Office

Contact Details

DAERA Helpline: 0300 200 7840
DAERA Trade Section: 028 77 442141

Control Strategy

The Bluetongue Virus Disease Control Strategy describes how an outbreak of Bluetongue Virus Disease in Northern Ireland would be managed. It sets out the measures applied in such an eventuality. It also describes the measures and wider framework in place to prevent and limit an incursion of disease. Further information can be found at the link below

Ongoing surveillance for bluetongue (and other exotic notifiable diseases) includes international disease monitoring (provided by DEFRA and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) in GB) to identify any significant changes in the level of threat of disease introduction through trade and other high risk pathways to the livestock population.

Clinical signs

Bluetongue affects all ruminants (such as sheep, cattle, goat, deer, camels, llamas, giraffes, bison, buffalo, wildebeest and antelope). Other species such as elephants may be affected sporadically.

Although sheep are most severely affected. Cattle and goats which appear healthy can carry high levels of the virus and provide a source of further infection.

In sheep the clinical signs include:

  • fever
  • swelling of the head and neck
  • lameness
  • inflammation and ulceration of the mucous membrane of the mouth, nose and eyes
  • drooling
  • haemorrhages in the skin and other tissues
  • respiratory problems, such as froth in the lungs and an inability to swallow
  • high mortality rate
  • discoloration and swelling of the tongue (rare)

Although Bluetongue usually causes no apparent illness in cattle or goats (it is possible that cattle will show no signs of illness) however clinical signs have included:

  • nasal discharge
  • swelling and ulceration of the mouth
  • swollen teats

If you suspect the presence of the disease, contact your local Divisional Veterinary Office immediately.

Your questions answered

Why is it important to report cases of bluetongue?

Bluetongue can cause severe losses in sheep with a significant impact on livestock keepers and livestock trade.

If Bluetongue was confirmed to be circulating in NI it would have major economic significance, as large restriction zones would be declared and exports of susceptible animals from these areas would only be allowed in certain conditions. It may also affect the movement of animals within NI.

How is Bluetongue confirmed?

Bluetongue is confirmed on the basis of laboratory results and epidemiological evidence. Unlike other diseases, bluetongue is not confirmed by the presence of the virus in an individual animal - EU law requires that to confirm an outbreak of Bluetongue, there must be evidence of circulation of the active virus between susceptible animals and the midge vector population.

What controls have DAERA in place?

All susceptible animals being imported to Northern Ireland from a Bluetongue restricted area must comply with the relevant controls in the European Bluetongue Regulation (1266/2007) for the movement of susceptible animals from restricted zones.

For more information on the current trade conditions please click on the links at the bottom of the page or contact Trade Section 0300 200 7840.

As an additional precautionary measure, all susceptible breeding and production animals imported from bluetongue affected countries or countries at risk are being blood tested for Bluetongue and are restricted on their holding until a negative test result is received.

The animals must be held in isolation after importation until post-import testing is completed and restrictions are lifted. Animals must be kept in housing that has a separate air space and that is not shared with any other susceptible livestock.

The isolation facility must be cleansed and disinfected prior to the arrival of the imported animals, and must also be pre-sprayed with a recommended insecticide. 

In addition, and in line with EU Bluetongue legislation, the Department carries out an annual survey of herds in NI to confirm the disease free status. 

What steps are being taken to check for Bluetongue midges?

The Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) carry out surveillance to better understand the ecology and what species of midge we have in Northern Ireland.

What to do if you are considering importing stock?


In order to help protect the industry in Northern Ireland from this disease, anyone considering sourcing stock (ruminants) from a Bluetongue restricted area, is advised to: 

 

  • think very carefully before importing i.e. do you really need to import

if you decide that you must import:

 

  • request a pre-import test as a further precaution.

Farmers importing animals are advised to reduce the risk to their own livestock by taking the following actions:- 

  • treat imported animals with an approved insecticide when they arrive. This treatment should be repeated as required by the manufacturer’s recommendations, until restrictions are lifted. 
  • consider getting isolation facility checked by a veterinarian prior to importing animals to ensure it can meet the conditions. 
  • treat the inside of livestock vehicles that have transported the imported animals with insecticide. (This must be done if the animals are imported from a Bluetongue Restricted Zone) 
  • it is also advised that vehicles transporting horses should be treated with insecticide to reduce the risk of importing midges 
  • ideally, all imported animals should be held in isolation and observed for at least 30 days before they join the main herd. Introduce the animals gradually to the rest of the herd/flock when you are satisfied they are healthy.

What measures have been applied in Europe?

The affected countries have applied control measures as required under the EU Directive. Some movements are allowed if conditions are met. These conditions are set out in Annex 3 of the Bluetongue Regulation 1266/2007. 

What is Bluetongue Serotype 8 (BTV8)?

There are at least 24 different varieties (serotypes) of the bluetongue virus (BTV). The serotype involved in the outbreak of bluetongue in Northern Europe was identified as serotype 8. Other serotypes common in mainland Europe include BTV 1 and BTV4.

How is the Bluetongue virus transmitted?

Virus transmission between animals occurs via an insect vector (midges of Culicoides species), when a midge bites an infected animal and passes the infection to an uninfected naive animal. Transmission of the virus during an outbreak therefore depends on continuing cycles of infection between infected animals and vector insects.

The midge season is normally March to September. The weather (especially temperature and wind direction) affects how the disease can spread.

Bluetongue cannot be naturally transmitted directly between animals. As the virus is found in the blood, there is the potential for spread by hypodermic needle or the equipment which is in contact with bodily secretions. Sterile needles should be used for each animal. 

Does Bluetongue affect humans?

Bluetongue does not affect humans so there are no human or public health implications. There is no risk of the disease being contracted or spread through meat or milk. 

What legislation currently exists?

The Bluetongue Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2008 as amended by The Bluetongue (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012 implement Council Directive 2000/75/EEC concerning the control and eradication of Bluetongue. It also enforces the requirements of Commission Regulation 1266/2007 as regards the monitoring, surveillance and movement restrictions of certain animals of susceptible species in relation to Bluetongue. 

What disease control measures would be put in place if the Bluetongue virus was confirmed to be circulating in Northern Ireland? 

Under current legislation, the measures would include: 

  • veterinary investigation on suspect premises, and restrictions (including a ban on movement of susceptible animals on and off the premises). 
  • on confirmation, restrictions would remain in place and be extended to a zone of 20km radius around the infected premises (IP). 
  • two wider zones would also be declared: The Protection Zone (PZ) (at least 100km radius around an IP) and The Surveillance Zone (SZ) (at least 50km in radius beyond the PZ). 
  • restrictions on movement of susceptible animals out of these zones would be put in place. 
  • additional housing requirements and requirements to control midges with insecticides may also be put in place within the 20km zone.

If you suspect the presence of the disease, contact your local Divisional Veterinary Office immediately.

Is there a vaccine for animals?

Bluetongue vaccination is not permitted in NI. The Bluetongue Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2008 (as amended) prohibits vaccination of animals within Northern Ireland unless authorised by the Department. There is currently deemed to be no veterinary need for vaccination, as the most likely route of disease entry to Northern Ireland is through the import of infected animals.  Therefore, the primary focus of the Department is advising against movements of animals into Northern Ireland and post movement testing so that action could be taken as necessary to quickly prevent infection of the local midge population and circulation of the virus.  This position will be kept under review as the situation on the Continent becomes clearer. Vaccination against one strain of bluetongue virus does not give protection against any other strain.

A BTV 8 vaccine is available in GB, but is not authorised for use in Northern Ireland.

Will infected animals be slaughtered?

This will be considered on a case-by-case basis, taking account of the epidemiological investigation and the veterinary risk assessment. However, due to the vector-borne nature of the disease, widespread slaughter is unlikely to be used to control Bluetongue.

What compensation is payable?

Compensation is payable in accordance with the Diseases of Animals (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 for animals destroyed for the purpose of disease control.

Compensation would not be payable in the following circumstances:

  • imported infected or exposed animals slaughtered on a discretionary basis as a disease risk
  • seriously affected animals destroyed for welfare reasons by decision of the owner

More useful links

Back to top