A fatal cow disease - epizootic haemorrhagic disease (EHD) - is spreading across parts of Europe, with UK authorities now “closely monitoring” the situation.
In an update to farmers, the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) outlined how the disease has spread in Spain, Italy and Portugal, with a risk now that it’ll move north through France.
The virus is usually spread to cattle, deer and sheep through the bites of infected midges. It can be up to 90% fatal in deer showing clinical signs of the disease.
Cattle infected with the disease will show signs of fever, lameness, salivation, redness and scaling of the nose and lips, swelling of the tongue and erosion of the mouth and nose, with the disease fatal if not treated in time.
Assessing the latest spread of EHD, DEFRA said that there have been an additional 156 new outbreaks in Europe since November 2022.
In November of last year, the department documented - for the first time - EHD outbreaks in Spain, as well as a further three outbreaks in Italy. Since then, it said there has been an additional 11 outbreaks in Italy and 85 in Spain.
Furthermore, in July 2023, EHD was reported for the first time in Portugal and, as of 5 September, there have been 42 outbreaks in total in the country.
Additionally, the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has reported a further 18 outbreaks in Spain as of 6 September. These are not yet accounted for by DEFRA’s data, bringing the total outbreaks of EHD in Spain to 103.
Out of the 103 outbreaks in the country since last November, 80 have occurred over the summer on cattle farms between 17 July and 6 September.
One outbreak occurred near Oveido in north Spain and another near Santander, indicating a large geographical jump of more than 150km from where the disease was first detected.
Current measures in Spain involve disinfection of animals and farms in affected areas and the monitoring of sheep and goat farms in affected zones, as these may be carriers of EHD without showing clinical symptoms.
The Portuguese outbreaks were also on cattle farms, many further north of the country.
In Italy, the disease outbreaks were on a number of cattle farms, including one on a cattle farm containing 413 animals and one on a sheep farm containing 349 animals.
DEFRA warned that the northern regions with outbreaks of the disease in Spain have a high cattle density and border France.
“The situation in Spain will be closely monitored as infections of EHD edge closer to the border of France. If EHD can cross the Pyrenees into France, there holds a significantly greater potential for spread within mainland Europe and to Britain,” a spokesperson said.
The department said that the three midge species carrying the disease are “widespread across northern Europe and Britain and have huge local abundance on livestock farms during the vector active season between mid-summer and autumn”.