Bluetongue spreads to sheep in Suffolk

Bluetongue has taken another turn after spreading to sheep in two Suffolk farms, Government vets confirmed yesterday. The virus had previously only been circulating among cattle, but it has now been found in two flocks of sheep, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said.

Bluetongue has taken another turn after spreading to sheep in two Suffolk farms, Government vets confirmed today.

The virus had previously only been circulating among cattle, but it has now been found in two flocks of sheep, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) said.

It is a worrying development as sheep are more susceptible to the virus and up to 70pc of flocks can be wiped out, although no sheep are believed to have died from the virus yet.

The disease - which has spread across the continent during the past year - emerged in the UK last month when a cow on a farm near Ipswich was hit.

Since then, the virus has migrated into Essex, and more than 30 cattle herds have been affected.

A Defra spokeswoman said vets have confirmed that the virus had been found in sheep flocks - although officials have not named the farms involved.

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Bluetongue has attacked cattle and sheep on the continent, and experts are not surprised at the spread of the virus in the UK.

The news comes as the Government is preparing to ease the restrictions in East Anglia on moving livestock.

Defra initially imposed the restrictions in an attempt to limit the spread of the disease but they were set to be loosened from tomorrow in an attempt to aid struggling farmers.

A National Farmers' Union spokesman said: “This isn't good news but it's not a surprise. Bluetongue is a disease which affects cattle and sheep so it's not unexpected that it's now been found in sheep.”

The virus is spread by infected midges and is not passed on from animal to animal.

Experts believe it was carried into England by midges blown across the sea from the European coast.

Animals display a variety of symptoms and are normally culled.

Official figures handed to the World Animal Health Organisation reveal that about 60 infected animals have now been found.

It was hoped that a cold winter would help eradicate the disease by killing the midges that carry it from animal to animal, but the conditions in northern mainland Europe last year were too mild to prevent the virus from re-emerging to devastate flocks.

Epidemiologists are now carrying out urgent research to find out if midges with the disease survived the winter by breeding inside shelters used by livestock.

Vets at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have also revealed that they expect the virus to continue spreading into December, raising fears that it will reach areas of intense sheep farming where it could decimate the industry.

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