Chief Vet calls for extra vigilance after further detection of Bluetongue in GB

Date published: 15 October 2018

Following the finding last month of Bluetongue virus in two cattle imported from France into Great Britain (GB), a further Bluetongue case has now been detected in GB in a sheep, also imported from France.


Reiterating his call for increased vigilance Northern Ireland’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr. Robert Huey has urged all herd and flock keepers to source animals responsibly and to be aware of the risks associated with importing animals from bluetongue affected areas.

Dr. Huey said: “Bluetongue does not pose a threat to human health or food safety, but can severely impact farming productivity on affected premises.

“While it is reassuring that the UK’s stringent post-import checks and robust disease surveillance procedures have again been effective, this second finding of the virus in recent weeks is a further reminder to farmers of the need to remain vigilant and highlights the risks of importing animals from disease-affected areas into their herds.”

Livestock importers are strongly reminded to:

  • Discuss their needs with a private veterinary surgeon and consider the risks and the health status of animals when sourcing stock from regions affected by Bluetongue virus;  
  • Consider what additional guarantees the seller can provide such as a pre-export test carried out to prove immunity to Bluetongue Virus; 
  • Practise good biosecurity on their farm premises
  • Stay alert to any signs of the disease, such as mouth ulcers and drooling from the mouth and nose, and report to DAERA immediately.

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

APHA is working closely with the livestock keeper affected to ensure that swift action is taken to prevent spread of the disease with movement restrictions at the affected premises, targeted surveillance and the humane culling of animals where necessary.

The UK remains officially bluetongue-free and exports are not affected.

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. This is second finding of the virus in GB in recent weeks the first in two cattle and now in a sheep.

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.

4. 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)

5. 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.

6. The UK has been officially free from the disease since July 2011. There has never been an outbreak of Bluetongue in Northern Ireland.

7. Animal keepers in Northern Ireland are not permitted to vaccinate their animals against Bluetongue. However, if Bluetongue was confirmed 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.

8. 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

9. 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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11. 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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