DAERA urges vigilance for signs of Bluetongue and Epizootic Haemorrhagic Disease following recent spread across Europe

Date published: 17 October 2023

Northern Ireland’s Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO), Dr Robert Huey, is urging vigilance following the confirmation of Epizootic Haemorrhagic Disease (EHD) in France, and the recent spread of Bluetongue (BTV) across Europe.


EHD was confirmed for the first time in Europe in October 2022 in Italy.  It has since spread to Portugal, Spain, before reaching France. EHD affects deer most severely, but clinical cases have been reported in cattle at multiple farms in these countries.

Several strains of BTV have been circulating in Europe with nearly 800 outbreaks confirmed. The Netherlands reported their first outbreak of BTV since 2009 in September, followed by the Belgium authorities in October. In both cases the strain BTV-3 has been identified. In September, French authorities confirmed the presence of a new strain of the disease, BTV-8, which is causing more severe clinical signs in cattle and sheep.

With more cases expected, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) is advising herd keepers to carefully consider the disease risks associated with sourcing animals from areas in mainland Europe that are known to have been BTV or EHD and those considered at risk of being affected with the virus.

The Department is also reminding farmers that imported animals subsequently found to be infected with BTV will be slaughtered.  In addition, no compensation will be paid, and movement restrictions will be placed on the holding for several months while extensive surveillance is carried out to rule out further spread.  Housing and isolation of imported pregnant animals will also be required until the birth of the progeny, which must be tested with negative results before restrictions will be lifted.

Dr Huey said: “Whilst both Bluetongue and Epizootic Haemorrhagic Disease are windborne vector diseases transmitted through midges, the main risk for Northern Ireland is from farmers importing animals from BTV and EHD affected and at risk areas in mainland Europe.

“This was the case in December 2018, when the last detection of BTV was discovered in NI, as part of the Department’s routine post-import testing regime.  The disease was detected in a heifer imported from France to a holding in Northern Ireland.”

He added: “I would strongly encourage farmers to follow the DAERA guidance and to be aware of the significant risks and the potentially adverse consequences, both for themselves and for the industry, of importing animals from, or transiting through affected areas.”

  • Anyone who imports animals from a Bluetongue affected area must ensure that the animals have been vaccinated against the disease prior to import.  
  • If the animals are pregnant, the vaccination must have been carried out so that the animal was immune before mating.  
  • These are legal requirements and conditions must be attested to by the certifying official veterinarian on the health certificate.
  • Farmers should also consider seeking additional guarantees from the seller such as a pre-export test to prove effective immunity.  
  • If you choose to bring animals into Northern Ireland from a disease-free zone via a Bluetongue infected zone you must ensure you comply with all the conditions on the export health certificate.  This should include the treatment of animals and vehicles with an approved insecticide and ensuring all parts of the health certificate for the imported animals have been met.

Dr Huey concluded: “An incursion of Bluetongue or Epizootic Haemorrhagic Disease to Northern Ireland would result in the loss of disease-free status which would be devastating for the industry.”

More information on Bluetongue, including clinical signs, biosecurity and Q&A can be found on the DAERA website.

Further information for Epizootic Haemorrhagic Disease can be found on the DAERA website.

Additional queries can be discussed by contacting your local DAERA Direct Regional Office on 0300 200 7840.

Notes to editors: 

  1. Northern Ireland is officially Bluetongue free and the risk status is currently low.
  2. The midge-borne disease has continued to circulate around Europe with cases being reported in France, Switzerland, Cyprus, Portugal, Spain, Greece and Italy and more recently in Holland and Belgium. Farmers should keep up with news on which countries are affected as these can change regularly as the vector active season (April - November) progresses.
  3. Epizootic Haemorrhagic Disease (EHD) is an insect-born disease caused by a virus (EHDV) and affecting wild and domestic ruminant species.
  4. The Bluetongue and Epizootic Haemorrhagic Disease virus is spread by midges which transfer the virus from animal to animal by biting them or by infected germplasm (semen or ova).
  5. Bluetongue affects all ruminants, such as cattle, goats, deer and sheep. Clinical signs can vary by species – although symptoms are generally more severe in sheep. Symptoms include fever, swelling of the head and neck, lameness, inflammation of the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose and eyes, drooling and there is often a high mortality rate.  Generally, cattle and goats are less severely affected but cattle and goats, which appear healthy, can carry high levels of the virus and provide a source of further infection.
  6. EHD affects deer most severely, but clinical cases have been reported in cattle at multiple farms in affected European countries.
  7. Imported animals that are found to be infected with bluetongue will be slaughtered and no compensation is payable.
  8. Animal keepers in Northern Ireland are not permitted to vaccinate their animals against bluetongue.
  9. DAERA reviews and updates its Veterinary Risk Assessment on an ongoing basis in light of new developments, to ensure the measures in place are appropriate and timely.
  10. Follow DAERA on Twitter and Facebook.
  11. All media queries should be directed to the DAERA Press Office at: pressoffice.group@daera-ni.gov.uk.
  12. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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