Bluetongue – looking ahead to 2017

Bluetongue looks to be a potential threat again in 2017 with potentially devastating effects for sheep, cattle, camelids and goats.

In 2016 we saw the re-emergence of BTV-8 in France, the virus being the same as the one involved in the 2008-2009 outbreak of Bluetongue. France continued to see new cases throughout 2016 and into 2017, reporting 406 new cases in December 2016, and 154 in January 2017. These cases have been detected mainly as a result of pre-movement testing. However, they highlight the fact that disease is widespread in France and as we move into Spring and temperatures rise, midge activity will increase as will the ability of the virus to replicate, further increasing the risk of disease transmission.

The risk to the UK depends on situation and weather conditions across the summer. The risk to the UK is currently low but as we move into the summer we are likely to see the risk increasing as warm weather and wind direction allows for midges to move across the channel.

Figure 1 – Map showing confirmed BTV-8 outbreaks and restriction zones in France as of 24/02/17

Bluetongue can cause reproductive and production losses (milk drop, reduced meat and wool production) but the greatest impact is likely to come from the movement restrictions put in place when Bluetongue is identified. Zones of 150km are immediately put in place around infected premises, which can have a significant impact on the ability to move and trade animals. The EU Bluetongue directive is in place to ensure trade is able to continue in the event of an outbreak, and vaccination plays a key role in the strategy to allow animal movements and free trade to continue.

Only vaccination guarantees protection

Protection against Bluetongue is through keeping susceptible animals away from the vector (the midge) and vaccination. Pour-on insecticides are helpful in reducing the risk but vaccination is the only sure way to protect animals against infection. Whilst the disease did not enter the UK in 2016, the situation in France tells us that the risk remains for 2017. Vaccinating in Spring will ensure animals are protected ahead of the active midge season, and vaccinating pre-turnout will improve convenience, particularly for beef farmers. It’s important to remember that vaccination takes just over 6 weeks from starting the 2 dose vaccine course to the animal being protected, so it pays to start having active discussions with your vet now about the most appropriate approach to Bluetongue prevention on your farm in 2017.

Whilst there is currently stock of the vaccine in the UK, the vaccine is due to expire towards the end of April (for Zulvac 8 Bovis) or the beginning of May (for Zulvac 8 Ovis) and it is not known when new stock is going to become available. Therefore, alongside vaccinating animals before turnout, this is another reason to plan in a vaccination program sooner rather than later. If you have any questions about Bluetongue, or if you want to know more about the risk that is facing your animals this year, then it is worth speaking to your vet about it now to allow you time to plan in a vaccination program before the grazing season.

Please call your local Westpoint practice if you require further advice or email info@westointfarmvets.co.uk.