Farmers in Britain can avail of free bluetongue testing for animals moving from areas of high-risk to elsewhere.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is hopeful that this will prevent animal movements potentially transporting undetected disease to new areas.

Areas which are currently considered high-risk are along the east coast and include counties Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Kent and East Sussex.

Although there are currently no live cases of bluetongue virus and no evidence that it is circulating, there remains a very high risk of a new introduction of bluetongue virus serotype 3 (BTV-3) into livestock in Britain through infected biting midges being blown over from northern Europe.

The timing of an incursion depends on the temperature and wind patterns. There is an active surveillance programme, which involves the trapping of midges across the country and working with partners such as the British Met Office to monitor the likely spread of the virus based on temperature and wind patterns.

Productivity issues

While bluetongue does not pose a threat to human health or food safety, the disease can impact livestock farms, and cause productivity issues. Farmers are being asked to monitor their animals frequently for clinical signs.

Strict rules on the movement of livestock from regions affected by bluetongue are already in place, and animals imported from these regions must be accompanied by the relevant paperwork to clearly show they meet certain conditions designed to reduce disease risk, such as correct vaccination.

Following confirmation of BTV in a non-imported animal in England, some trading partners may restrict exports of bluetongue susceptible animals or their products.

UK chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss said: “We know that the likelihood of bluetongue virus entering Great Britain is increasing and so I would urge farmers to remain vigilant and report any suspicions to the Animal and Plant Health Agency."