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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – Animal and Plant Health Agency
Veterinary & Science Policy Advice Team – International Disease Monitoring
Updated Situation Assessment No.8

What is bluetongue?

Bluetongue disease is caused by a virus transmitted by biting midges, which are most active between May and October. Bluetongue virus can infect all ruminants (e.g. sheep, cattle, goats and deer) and camelids (e.g. llama and alpaca). Sheep are most severely affected by the disease. Cattle, although infected more frequently than sheep, do not always show signs of the disease.

Outbreaks of bluetongue affect farm incomes through reduced milk yield, sickness, reduced reproductive performance (failed pregnancies, abortion, central nervous system deformities in the calf or lamb) or, in severe cases, the death of adult animals.

Bluetongue virus does not affect people and consumption of meat and milk from infected animals is safe.

Bluetongue is a notifiable disease. That means if you suspect an animal is showing signs of disease you must tell the Animal and Plant and Health Agency (APHA) immediately. Failure to do so is an offence.

Current situation

Bluetongue serotype 8 and 4 (BTV-8 and BTV-4) is currently circulating in France.

Bluetongue has been successfully picked up in a number of cattle imported from France through the UK’s robust post-import testing regime. The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) identified the disease in cattle after they were brought to Preston and Kendal in England and two locations in Scotland.

A restriction zone has been put in place across the whole of mainland France for BTV-4 and BTV-8. Animals must be correctly vaccinated against BTV-4 and BTV-8 or be naturally immune to both virus serotypes, prior to leaving the restriction zone.

The UK remains officially bluetongue-free and exports are not affected.

The affected animals will be dealt with under the Trade in Animals and Related Products regulations. Cattle with a high risk of being infected with the BTV-8 strain of bluetongue or which had not been vaccinated before being exported have been humanely culled. Movement restrictions will be in place on the premises for several weeks until testing rules out spread via local midges.

Full details on

Defra has analysed the risk to livestock in the UK and it is currently LOW to reflect the low level of infection in northern France.

Read the latest NFU briefing

Latest situation assessment from Defra 

In June 2016, a serological survey of bulk milk samples from about 200 randomly picked dairy herds across the Southeast and East of England were tested for antibodies to BTV. The aim was to ascertain the background level of BTV-seropositive cattle and whether this would be a useful as an early warning system for BTV-8 incursion. Read this risk assessment from Defra for the results and analysis.

Read the full risk assessment from Defra 

Advice for farmers

UK Chief Veterinary Officer Nigel Gibbens said: 
“Bluetongue does not pose a threat to human health or food safety, but can have a negative impact on farm incomes, for example by causing reduced milk yield in cows and infertility in sheep.

“We have robust disease surveillance procedures and continue to carefully monitor the situation in France, where Bluetongue disease control measures are in place.

“Our latest assessment shows the risk of outbreak in the UK is currently low, but the detection of the virus in northern France is a timely reminder for farmers to remain vigilant for disease and report any suspicions to the Animal and Plant Health Agency. I would also encourage farmers to talk to their vet to consider if vaccination would benefit their business.”

What you can do now

  • Monitor stock carefully and report any clinical signs of disease. Your local vet can provide help in the diagnosis.
  • Source animals responsibly and check the health status of animals you are looking to buy.
  • Consider vaccination as a method of reducing the spread of infection. Vaccination is the only effective tool to protect animals from bluetongue. Consult your vet about the benefits of doing so and the availability of vaccine if this is something you are considering. Meat and milk from vaccinated animals is safe for consumption.
  • Maintain good biosecurity such as washing equipment after use.

What to do if you suspect disease

If you suspect bluetongue you must report it immediately to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).

  • England: telephone 03000 200 301
  • Wales: telephone 0300 303 8268
  • Scotland: contact your local APHA Field Services Office