NI’s Chief Vet urges vigilance for signs of Bluetongue

Date published: 04 July 2019

Northern Ireland’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Robert J Huey is urging local herd and flock keepers to remain vigilant for signs of Bluetongue and to follow the guidance to prevent its spread.


Herd keepers should also carefully consider the disease risks associated with sourcing animals from areas in mainland Europe that are known to have been affected with Bluetongue virus (BTV) or those considered at risk of being affected with the virus.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) is also reminding farmers that imported animals subsequently found to be infected with Bluetongue 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 Bluetongue is a windborne vector disease, the main risk for Northern Ireland is from farmers importing animals from Bluetongue affected areas in mainland Europe. This was the case in December last year when, 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.

“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, Bluetongue 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: “The message is clear. Farmers must be aware of the risks of importing animals. DAERA policy is to post-import test all animals from Bluetongue affected areas, areas at risk of infection, and those that transit through them. It is important to note that should an infected animal be identified, it will be slaughtered and no compensation will be paid. An incursion of Bluetongue 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 or 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 Germany and Belgium. Farmers should keep up with news on which countries are affected as these can change regularly as the vector active season (May- October) progresses.
  3. The Bluetongue virus is spread by midges which transfer the virus from animal to animal by biting them or by infected germplasm (semen or ova).
  4. 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.
  5. Imported animals that are found to be infected with bluetongue will be slaughtered and no compensation is payable.
  6. Animal keepers in Northern Ireland are not permitted to vaccinate their animals against bluetongue.
  7. 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.
  8. Follow DAERA on Twitter and Facebook.    
  9. 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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