Bluetongue detected in imported animal

Date published: 06 December 2018


The Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Robert Huey, today urged farmers to remain vigilant after Bluetongue was detected in a heifer imported from France.

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The animal, which was imported last week, tested positive following a stringent post-import testing regime.

Dr Huey said: “This detection is an example of our robust disease surveillance procedures in action, however the identification offers another timely reminder to farmers for the need to think carefully before importing susceptible animals from Bluetongue affected areas.

“It is vitally important that we keep Bluetongue out. The risk is not only to themselves but to the whole industry as the impacts on trade could be catastrophic as a result.

“If farmers feel they must import from Bluetongue-affected countries they should consider what additional guarantees the seller can provide such as requesting a pre-export test to be carried out to prove effective immunity to the Bluetongue virus.”

Dr Huey added: “Anyone who imports from Bluetongue affected countries or zones risks the possibility that if the imported animals are subsequently found to be infected with Bluetongue that they will be slaughtered and no compensation will be paid.”

Bluetongue does not cause disease in humans or affect food safety. It is a virus transmitted by midge bites and affects cows, goats, sheep and other camelids such as llamas. It can reduce milk yield and cause infertility and in the most severe cases is fatal for infected animals. The midges are most active between May and October and not all susceptible animals show immediate signs of contracting the virus.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) is taking action to ensure the risk of spread of the disease is reduced, with veterinary investigations under way and movement restrictions in place at the premises. The affected animal has been humanely culled.

The Department is also tracing and testing associated herds and an epidemiological investigation has been initiated to assess the situation. This investigation will help determine if disease is circulating, however as we are now outside the active midge period, this is highly unlikely. Therefore at this time the UK remains officially Bluetongue free.

Notes to editors: 

  1. Bluetongue is a virus spread by midges which transfer the virus from animal to animal. It affects animals such as cattle, goats, deer and sheep. It does not affect humans. 
  2. DAERA officials are working to minimise the risk of disease spreading. An outbreak is only confirmed when a country finds that the infection is circulating. There has never been an outbreak of Bluetongue in Northern Ireland. The UK has been officially free from Bluetongue since 2011 and this finding does not affect this status. 
  3. 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)
  1. 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
  1. If you suspect the presence of the disease, contact your local DAERA Direct Office immediately.
  2. Animal keepers in Northern Ireland are not permitted to vaccinate their animals against Bluetongue. However, if Bluetongue was confirmed to be circulating in Northern Ireland, a veterinary risk assessment would be carried out and a licence may be issued to permit vaccination. Vaccination against one strain of Bluetongue virus does not give protection against any other strain.
  3. Further information on Bluetongue, including clinical signs and questions and answers can be obtained from the DAERA website or by contacting your local DAERA Direct Office on 0300 200 7840.
  4. The Department may take photographs and videos at announcements and events to publicise its work. Photographs, interviews, videos or other recordings may be issued to media organisations for publicity purposes or used in promotional material, including in publications, newspapers, magazines, other print media, on television, radio and electronic media (including social media and the internet). Photographs and videos will also be stored on the department’s internal records management system. The department will keep the photographs and recordings for no longer than is necessary for the purposes for which they have been obtained. The department’s Privacy Policy is available on our website.
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  6. All media queries should be directed to the DAERA Press Office on 028 9052 4619 or via email. Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer on 028 9037 8110.

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