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Bluetongue Winter Surveillance 2009

Defra and the Devolved Administrations have approved a further Bluetongue surveillance exercise this winter. The survey will take place across the whole of GB, starting from 1 November and running for approximately one month. It will enable us to get a clearer picture of the BTV8 disease situation, and enable us to detect any potential undetected incursion of new serotypes. The survey will test for all Bluetongue serotypes including BTV1 which is currently circulating in France. The results of the survey will be used to plan our future policy and any additional surveillance in 2010. Should the results of our winter surveillance show that there is no circulating virus, it will also take us a step closer to being able to consider officially declaring freedom from disease at some point in the future. However it is important that livestock keepers continue to report suspicion of Bluetongue as this remains a legal requirement and is a key element of our surveillance. It is also crucial to continue to vaccinate against BTV8 as this is our best defence against the disease

When will I be told if my cattle herd is selected for testing and will I be informed of any results? Animal Health and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) are currently finalising the logistics of the surveillance and will be contacting selected cattle farms shortly to inform them of this work. Each farmer will be informed of the Bluetongue results for their herd.

What parts of GB will be included within the survey?  The surveillance will be carried out over 5 regions of GB, South and South-East England, West Midlands of England, Northern England, Wales and Scotland. As the risk of infection is greater in the South and South East a more concentrated form of surveillance will be carried out in these areas.

How will animals be tested and who is carrying out the tests? Animals will be blood tested by Animal Health Officers. The samples will then be sent to the Veterinary Laboratories Agency at Weybridge who will test the samples for evidence of exposure to Bluetongue virus.

How many animals will you be testing? In total we will be taking samples from over 4500 animals. This will be made up from approximately 17 animals from each of around 16 herds in the West Midlands, North of England, Wales and Scotland Regions. In the South and South East of England Region, which is at greater risk of an incursion blown over from the continent we will test a similar number of animals and herds per individual Animal Health Office area.

What happens if you select my animals? Animal Health will notify you in advance if your herd has been randomly selected and to request your participation in this important survey.

Will I be paid ? No. The costs of sampling and laboratory testing will be borne by Government but unfortunately we cannot reimburse you for your costs in participating in the survey. We hope that you will understand the importance of this work to the GB farming industry in general and help us to demonstrate that GB has successfully halted the spread of Bluetongue.

Why are you only testing cattle? Cattle have been chosen because they tend to be preferentially bitten by potentially infected midges before sheep. Sheep also tend to show more obvious clinical signs of disease and are therefore more likely to be observed and reported to Animal Health via statutory notifiable disease reporting mechanisms than cattle where signs may be less obvious.

Why is the survey being carried out in November? This is the end of the Bluetongue midge season. If an incursion were to have happened, it would most likely have occurred by November. This is the optimal period during which to test in order to detect Bluetongue virus that may have occurred during this year.

Will you be testing vaccinated animals? Yes. The surveillance is designed to look for all strains of Bluetongue and an animal vaccinated against BTV8 will not have immunity against other serotypes such as BTV1. Although unvaccinated animals will be sought for testing first, if your cattle herd is selected full details regarding the selection criteria will be explained by Animal Health.

What will happen if you discover another serotype of BTV such as BTV-1? We will deal with any new serotype of Bluetongue as outlined in our Bluetongue Control Strategy.

What will happen if you discover another case of BTV-8? We are already within a BTV8 restricted zone so should we find a new circulating case of BTV-8 we are likely to carry out some additional surveillance around the infected premises to determine the extent of any problem and continue to urge farmers to vaccinate.

What happens if you do not discover any disease? This will provide further evidence to help build the case to move potentially towards disease freedom at some point in the future. It will also help to inform our surveillance and policies for 2010. Whatever the outcome, we need to maintain vaccination as this is our best defence against any potential BTV8 that may arrive from the Continent. Boosting previously vaccinated cattle now with one dose of vaccine should be cheaper and more convenient than having to vaccinate again from scratch with two doses in the face of a potential disease incursion next year.

Do you carry out any other forms of surveillance for bluetongue? We have two ongoing means of detecting Bluetongue in GB. Firstly there is a legal requirement for livestock holders to report all cases of Bluetongue infection on their premises. This allows us to assess any new midge-transmission from the continent or re-emergence of disease?. Secondly, every susceptible animal imported from continental Europe is currently post import tested for all serotypes of Bluetongue. In March this year we also completed a one off bulk milk testing surveillance exercise which was targeted at a selection of unvaccinated dairy herds across five areas of GB. There has been no evidence of circulating Bluetongue in 2008 or 2009 and the negative results of this March’s surveillance exercise provide us with further assurance that we do not have circulating Bluetongue in GB.