Farmers fearful over bluetongue case

East Anglia's livestock farmers are reeling as the country's first confirmed case of bluetongue disease was found in a cow on a Suffolk farm near Ipswich.

The bluetongue virus detected in a British cow on a Suffolk farm is the same type as that found recently in northern Europe, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said today.

The Bluetongue Virus 8 has been found in Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Netherlands since August 2006.

Debby Reynolds, chief veterinary officer, said: “It remains vitally important that farmers maintain vigilance for this disease and report any suspect cases, particularly as clinical signs may be similar to foot-and-mouth.”

East Anglia's livestock farmers were reeling as the country's first confirmed case of bluetongue disease was found in a cow on a Suffolk farm near Ipswich.

The bluetongue virus, which is spread by midges, was identified last night in a Highland cow at a rare breeds farm six miles from Ipswich.

The alarm was raised on Friday and veterinary officials examined the animal at Baylham House Rare Breeds Centre, near Coddenham.

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Bluetongue, which spread from North Africa and across Europe, has been found on about 3,000 farms in Belgium, France and Holland and northern Germany.

Although no livestock movement restrictions have yet been imposed around the farm, scientists are now testing midges around the source of the first case of this severe animal disease. If, a further case is found then a 20km control zone will be established around the infected premises.

As an additional precaution, it is likely that a 150km (100 mile) protection zone would be declared. This would not allow movement of the susceptible species out of the zone although animals would be allowed to move freely within the area.

All the other animals on the farm, which has seven flocks of rare sheep breeds, four breeds of cattle and African Pygmy goats, are now being tested.

Bluetongue, which can vary in severity in ruminants, has the potential to cause 70pc mortality in sheep. Other susceptible species include cattle and deer.

Prime minister Gordon Brown held a conference call with Debby Reynolds, chief veterinary officer of the Department for environment, Food and Rural Affairs, yesterday.

Fred Landeg, deputy chief vet, said that all the other animals at the rare breeds centre, which is now closed to visitors, will be tested for signs of the bluetongue virus.

A recorded message from Richard Storer, said the premises were closed to the public. “It is with great regret that we have to let you know that we are now closed to the public until further notice. We do not believe this closure will last too long.”

Any further questions about the farm's livestock should be directed to Defra. The farm's closure had nothing to do with the latest foot-and-mouth outbreak.

As the EDP reported just a month ago, Defra has drawn up contingency plans after bluetongue was found to be widespread in northern parts of France, Germany, Holland and Belgium.

The impact on sheep can be very severe with mortality reported of up to 70pc. However, the diease is not spread to man or from animal to animal. It is transmitted by a particular type of midge.

Mid-Norfolk farmer Roger Long, of Scarning, near Dereham, said: “This is a nightmare. What more can happen.”

“We're right in the middle of trying to control foot-and-mouth disease and now this happens,” said Mr Long, who is a regional member of the National Farmers' Union's livestock board.

Bluetongue is a very different infection to foot-and-mouth Disease and the strategy to control it is therefore also different. This is not a confirmed outbreak unless further investigation demonstrates that disease is circulating.

It is transmitted by the movement of midges or by movements of infected animals if they are subsequently bitten by midges.

The Health Protection Agency advise that people who have visited the affected premises do not need to be concerned that there is any risk to their health.

NFU President Peter Kendall said, today: “Although this is bad news bluetongue it is not as serious or contagious as foot-and-mouth. Bluetongue has been present in northern Europe for months so this case is not unexpected and contingency plans are in place.

“Our key concern at the moment remains the eradication of foot-and-mouth and the freeing up of movement restrictions.”

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