New strain of bluetongue virus in Europe

20th October 2023 | Animal Health, Beef & Lamb, Dairy, UK Policy & Regulation

A new strain of the bluetongue virus that affects ruminant livestock has emerged in the Netherlands and is spreading rapidly there. There is concern that the vector-transmitted virus could reach the UK.

The last outbreak of the notifiable disease in Great Britain was in 2007, with the country officially free of the virus since 2011. The virus, spread by biting midges, affects ruminants and camelids. The earlier outbreak was Bluetongue virus (BTV)-8, but the latest strain is BTV-3.

There were reports of BTV-3 on more than 700 farms in the Netherlands by early October, with the first case in Belgium this week.

Ruminant Health and Welfare (RH&W), the independent body comprising 24 government and livestock industry organisations, has held emergency meetings this week to ensure the four UK nations are prepared for this emerging disease threat.

“What we are advising is three-fold. Farmers and their animal health advisers need to beware when buying animals in, especially from Europe; take action to report any signs of the disease; and at all times should remain vigilant,” explains Dr Joseph Henry, president of the Sheep Veterinary Society and member of RH&W’s steering group.

“The existing BTV-8 serotype vaccine will not offer cross-protection against this new BTV-3 strain, making any likely outbreak difficult to control. Hence, it’s so important to prioritise good biosecurity measures while remaining extremely vigilant to the disease at this stage.”

Symptoms of BTV-3 can vary across ruminants, with sheep generally exhibiting more overt symptoms than cattle, but both can showcase clinical signs. For sheep, these include drooling, mouth lesions, high fever, lameness, oedema (swollen heads) and sudden death. Cattle are not usually as severely affected but may show similar clinical signs as well as teat, eye, coronary band and nose lesions.

Anyone suspecting the notifiable disease must take action and report it to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).

More information on the diseases at: https://ruminanthw.org.uk/bluetongue-virus/