Chief vet’s warning on Bluetongue

Dr Robert Huey
Dr Robert Huey

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 at: www.daera-ni.gov.uk/articles/bluetongue or by contacting your local DAERA Direct Regional Office on: 0300 200 7840.