Cow at Canterbury farm killed after testing positive for Bluetongue virus not seen in UK in 16 years

Chris Radburn/PA Archive/PA Images
The virus was previously seen at a farm near Ipswich, Suffolk in 2007. Credit: Chris Radburn/PA Archive/PA Images

A cow has been killed after it tested positive for a virus not seen in the UK in 16 years.

The animal was detected to have Bluetongue virus at a farm in Canterbury, Kent.

Farmers are being urged to be vigilant and watch out for the virus which impacts certain livestock including cows, goats and sheep.

The disease is spread by midges and can cause pregnant livestock to have a miscarriage.

In the most severe cases, it can be fatal for animals but it does not affect people or food safety. 

NFU President, Minette Batters said: “We have been informed by Defra of a single case of bluetongue on a farm in Kent over the weekend.

"A 10km Temporary Control Zone is now in place in the area, alongside surveillance testing and movement restrictions.

“The Chief Veterinary Officer has not confirmed an outbreak as this is only done once they can confirm infected midges are circulating.

"We are working to support our members in the area and urge farmers to remain vigilant for signs of the disease and get in contact with Defra or the APHA (Animal and Plant Health Agency) if you suspect a case.”

Bluetongue virus (BTV) is a notifiable exotic disease and is transmitted by midge bites [stock image] Credit: Kim Hansen

How is Bluetongue spread?

Bluetongue virus is mostly spread by certain species of biting midges known as Culicoides species.

Midges are infected with the virus when they bite an infected animal and then it bites an uninfected susceptible animal.

Once a midge has picked up the Bluetongue virus it will be a carrier for the rest of its life.

Midges are mainly active between April to November.

Infected pregnant animals can sometimes transmit the virus to their unborn offspring.

Once born, the infected offspring could act as a source of Bluetongue virus.

Advice for farmers and animal keepers:

  • Vaccinating your animals with a suitable authorised vaccine

  • Responsibly source livestock

  • Practising good biosecurity on your premises

  • Remaining vigilant

  • If you import animals, speak to your vet before you decide to import them.

On its website, DEFRA said: "Animals that test positive for Bluetongue may be culled or returned to the country of origin.

"Any animals which travelled in the same vehicle and are at risk of becoming infected may also be culled. No compensation will be paid for the culled animals.

"All other animals on the premises that are at risk of becoming infected will be placed under movement restrictions.

"These restrictions will apply until it’s confirmed that the disease has not spread. These restrictions may last several weeks."

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How to spot Bluetongue?

If you keep livestock, you must continue to keep a close watch for, and report, any suspicion of bluetongue disease in your animals.

Signs of Bluetongue in sheep include:

  • ulcers or sores in the mouth and nose

  • discharge from the eyes or nose and drooling from the mouth

  • red skin as a result of blood collecting beneath the surface

  • fever

  • lameness

  • breathing problems

Farmers are advised to vaccinate their animals with suitable approved vaccines [stock image] Credit: PA

Signs of Bluetongue in cattle and calves:

  • lethargy

  • crusty erosions around the nostrils and muzzle

  • redness of the mouth, eyes, nose

  • reddening of the skin above the hoof

  • nasal discharge

  • reddening and erosions on the teats

  • fever

  • milk drop

  • not eating

  • calves born small, weak, deformed or blind

  • death of calves within a few days of birth

  • miscarriage of pregnant livestock