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The article below, by Caroline Cranbrook, was published in the East Anglian Daily Times on 19 April 2008





By Caroline Cranbrook

(Vice-President CLA Suffolk Branch and member of the NFU)


Bluetongue is a devastating virus disease which affects all ruminants – cattle, sheep, goats, alpacas, llamas, deer and various exotic animals kept in zoos. If it becomes established in Britain it will have a catastrophic effect on the livestock industry and the countryside. We have to prevent this happening and we can do this by vaccinating. Vaccination works and vaccination is the only remedy.

The disease was unknown in this country until last year, when the first case was reported at Baylham, near Ipswich, on 22 September 2007. It is transmitted mainly by midges, which arrived early in August 2007 on the east coast on the wind from northern Europe, but it is also carried in blood and in semen. Infected female animals may also be able to transmit it to their young. The midges favour low-lying pasture, farmyard manure, straw heaps, and other damp places. They cannot be controlled effectively with insecticide. Vaccine is the only protection against the disease.

The disease is not contagious between animals – they cannot catch it from each other; and it is not contagious to people. Products from vaccinated animals are safe and can be consumed immediately - there is no withdrawal period.

In the first year the symptoms are mild and the number of cases moderate, since few midges are infected with the virus. In subsequent years both the severity and extent of the disease hugely increase because the virulence of the infection alters in the domestic host and more midges are infected. It is a serious infection for both sheep and cattle. In parts of Europe, the lamb crop is down by about 30%. In the Moselle region of France about 20% of cattle herds are affected, with 5% decline in milk production. The death rate has risen substantially (20-70% is reported in Europe) and there are twice as many abortions. In Holland there are reports of increasing numbers of aborted calves or cases with severe birth deformities, particularly brain defects. In Germany, 1500 cases were reported between June and September 2007. Today there are 23,443 cases.

Vaccination is the only hope of preventing the disease from spreading in a similar way in Britain and ruining the livestock industry. Defra has ordered 22.5 million doses from Intervet. It will delivered to vets in May, first of all for livestock keepers in the Protection Zone who have registered with their vets.

In the next few weeks we have a unique and perhaps final opportunity to prevent this catastrophic disease from becoming endemic in Britain. For this reason it is essential that everyone who owns cattle, sheep, goats, farmed deer or camelids should contact their vet immediately and ask to be put on the list for vaccine.

Registering for vaccination with your vet must become a top priority. Do it today. There is huge urgency. As soon as it is delivered to the vets, there will be a short window of opportunity for farmers in the Protection Zone who have not registered to obtain the vaccine. After that, the distribution of the vaccine will move to other counties beyond the Protection Zone. Industry representatives are putting pressure on Defra to order more vaccine but it is by no means certain this will happen. In the meantime unvaccinated livestock will be at risk and will also become reservoirs of the disease. There is no time to waste.

The disease has a severe economic impact through death, sickness, loss of productivity, loss of fertility, interruption to trade and loss of exports. There are also very serious welfare considerations. Unlike the mild infections experienced in Suffolk last year, once established it is a very painful disease and can cause great distress. Infected animals which survive can take a year or more to recover and may never return to normal health. Some become infertile while for others their offspring are often aborted, born deformed or die.

The main clinical signs are high fever, swellings in the head, mouth and on the neck, feet and teats. There can also be nasal and eye discharge, lameness, emaciation, scouring and pneumonia. Clinical signs are often very severe in sheep as the virus targets blood vessels. The symptoms are usually less severe in cattle but the consequences are equally serious. Infected animals either die within eight to ten days or recover very slowly and often become infertile or have retarded growth.

The vaccine is only obtainable from the vet but can be administered by the farmer. Sheep require one dose of 1 ml, cattle two doses of 1 ml each given at a 21 day interval. It cannot be given with other vaccines. It will be distributed in 20 or 50 ml bottles. It has to be kept refrigerated and be used within eight hours of opening. Each dose will probably cost between 55p and 98p, according to the size of the bottle. Immunity is acquired 21 days after the last dose. Animals will need a repeat vaccination in 2009, two weeks before the beginning of midge activity (end of February, beginning of March). The vaccine does not affect milk or meat, so there is no with-holding of production. Calves should be vaccinated, but not until they are a month old.

Animals destined for slaughter, such as store cattle and fat lambs, should also be vaccinated if their slaughter date is after the 21 days during which immunity is acquired. There may be severe practical problems for farmers who graze extensively but it is still essential that they vaccinate – not only for the good of the whole industry but also the potential consequential losses of not vaccinating are far greater than the cost of administering the vaccine.

The NFU has launched the Joint campaign Against Bluetongue – JAB – in conjunction with the British Veterinary Association, the CLA and about ten other livestock organisations. The message is Don’t Hesitate – Vaccinate – Contact Your Vet Today. All livestock keepers will be sent details.

For the sake of your animals, for the sake of your business, for the sake of your neighbours and for the sake of the whole livestock industry, register for the vaccine with your vet and persuade your friends and neighbours to do so as well. Time is short. Do it now. You cannot afford not to. We can beat this disease but only through vaccination.


Helpful Contacts

For disease information and control strategy from Defra. Hotline 08459 335577.

For detailed disease information from the Institute of Animal Health

For NFU policy and bluetongue information

For advice to smallholders

For information about the vaccine

For general up-to-date information on animal disease