Updated: 03/04/2024

Latest bluetongue virus update

This page will be updated daily with resources and information – for any queries email RuminantHW@ahdb.org.uk. 

BTV-3 latest announcement – 21/03/24

There are 126 bluetongue cases in England on 73 premises in 4 counties. There are 119 cases in cattle and 7 cases in sheep.

There is still no evidence that bluetongue virus is currently circulating in midges in Great Britain. We remain in a seasonally vector low period.

A current list of designated abattoirs is now available here.

Temporary control zone update (TCZ) – 12/2/24

Now we are officially in the vector low risk period for midge activity, BTV-3 temporary control zones (TCZs) are currently lifted. However restrictions on moving animals remain in place for animals in the former TCZs which have either NOT been tested OR have tested positive for BTV3 and are pregnant or entire males as they are still a risk for virus transmission.  Animals in the former TCZ and still awaiting testing must be tested before being moved.  Entire males and pregnant animals that have tested positive for BTV3 will not be allowed to be moved. However, other animals from that premise that have tested negative will be allowed to move.

If you are concerned about the welfare of animals that have tested positive and are not allowed to move, please contact APHA.

APHA are in the process of completing testing animals in the former TCZ.  However, if you need to move untested animals urgently, you are permitted to ask your private vet to complete the testing for you.  You would need to pay for the vet’s time, but the cost of the laboratory testing will be met by Defra.  Details on what your vet needs to do in this situation is given below in the advice section.

Advice for farmers

RH&W’s advice to farmers and their vets remains three-fold, farmers need to beware when buying animals in, take action to report any signs, and always, remain vigilant:

  1. Buyer beware, source animals from Europe responsibly and request pre-movement testing.
  2. Take action, prioritise biosecurity and report any suspicious clinical signs.
  3. Vigilance is key, monitor livestock closely.

Bluetongue is a notifiable animal disease. If you suspect it you must report it immediately by calling the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301. In Wales, contact 0300 303 8268. In Scotland, contact your local Field Services Office. Failure to do so is an offence.

Additional Resources

What is bluetongue?

Bluetongue (BTV) is a viral disease transmitted by biting midges, which affects all ruminants (e.g. sheep, cattle, goats and deer) and camelids (e.g. llama and alpaca). 

The latest strain, BTV-3 appear to mimic BTV-8 in its behaviour, however the existing BTV-8 serotype vaccine will not offer cross protection against this new strain.

Events and webinars

Date Time Details Location For who?
Tue 19 Dec 2023
Available on-demand
Online
Vet only
Wed 20 Dec 2023
2.00pm-3.00pm
Online
NFU Members only
Wed 20 Dec 2023
Available on-demand
Online
Farmers, vets and industry
Wed 10 Jan 2024
Available on demand
Online
Vets, industry and farmers
Mon 15 Jan 2024
7.00pm-8.30pm
Dunston Hall Hotel, Norfolk, NR14 8PQ
Farmers and vets
Wed 24 Jan 2024
Available on-demand
Online
Vets, industry and farmers
Wed 7 Feb 2024
Available on-demand
Online
Vets, industry and farmers
Wed 21 Feb 2024
Available on-demand
Online
Vets, industry and farmers
Wed 6 March 2024
Available on-demand
Online
Vets, industry and farmers

Advice for farmers and their veterinary surgeons for licencing where pre movement testing is required

Please note that recommendations relating to BTV-3 testing, licensing and moving of animals in the TCZs are subject to change depending on if we are in a vector low or vector high period therefore it is essential to check the status of these actions online rather than on any printed material which may go out of date given the continuously changing situation.

  1. APHA are continuing to test ruminants in the former TCZs and animals must be tested before they can move.  There is no financial charge for this.  If however, you need to move animals urgently, the keeper should arrange with their own private vet to complete the sampling together with the sample submission forms. In this case, the keeper is responsible for paying their own private vet and for transporting samples to the laboratory. Defra will fund the laboratory testing of samples. This policy is subject to change at any time.
  2. The APHA licencing team will advise on next steps after the results are received.
  1. If premovement testing is required, the following steps are to be taken:
  2. Keeper arranges with their private veterinary surgeon to take 1x EDTA blood sample (purple top tube) and 1x plain blood sample (red top tube) from each animal.
  3. The veterinary surgeon will complete a sample submission form, available on the Pirbright website.
  4. On the sample submission form, the veterinary surgeon is to select both options for RT-PCR testing for bluetongue virus.
  5. The veterinary surgeon is to write in the additional information section of the sample submission form that this submission is for (specify as appropriate) pre-/post- movement testing.
  6. The veterinary surgeon is to package the sample in a way that prevents leaking.
  7. The veterinary surgeon will send the package by Royal Mail, ideally through next day delivery, addressing it to: NVRL, The Pirbright Institute, Ash Road, Pirbright, Woking, GU24 0NF
  8. Pirbright will complete the PCR tests for bluetongue and will send the results by email to the veterinary surgeon and the APHA licencing team. Results are usually returned within a week.

Bluetongue FAQs

The following information has been developed with Defra and industry input to ensure farmers and vets have factual, up-to-date information on the current bluetongue during vector high risk periods  and while TCZs are currently lifted, some FAQ’s may not be relevant.

Adult animals may show little or no clinical signs, so farmers and their vets need to be vigilant.

In sheep: 

  • Lethargy, reluctance to move 
  • Crusty erosions around the nostrils and on the muzzle 
  • Discharge of mucus and drooling from mouth and nose 
  • Swelling of the muzzle, face and above the hoof 
  • Reddening of the skin above the hoof 
  • Redness of the mouth, eyes, nose 
  • Breathing problems 
  • Erosions on the teats

In cattle:

  • Crusty erosions around the nostrils and muzzle 
  • Redness of the mouth, eyes, nose 
  • Redding of the skin above the hoof 
  • Nasal discharge 
  • Reddening and erosions on the teats 

Cattle do not often show clear signs of disease so owners should also look out for signs of fatigue and lower productivity including reduced milk yield. 

In calves:

Calves can become infected with bluetongue (BTV-8) before birth if the mother is infected while pregnant. Signs of infection include: 

  • Calves born small, weak, deformed or blind 
  • Death of calves within a few days of birth 
  • Abortions 

Livestock keepers and vets should consider bluetongue as a possible cause for calves showing these signs. 

BTV is a notifiable disease which has the potential for rapid spread via biting midges to other ruminating animals with significant production losses in livestock. Suspicion of BTV in animals in England must be reported to the Animal and Plant Health Agency on 03000 200 301. In Wales, contact 0300 303 8268. In Scotland, contact your local Field Services Office. Failure to do so is an offence.

BTV is mainly spread by adult-infected midges (various Culicoides species) biting (vector) an animal susceptible to the disease. This is classed as ‘vector-borne’ transmission.

Infected midges can spread locally and more widely in certain temperatures and wind conditions.

The second but less common way the disease is spread is through movement of infected animals. That is why movement of animals from BTV areas is controlled.

The time of year, i.e. whether during the active vector season (normally March-September), and meteorological conditions, i.e. temperature and wind direction, and the proximity and density of neighbouring farms are significant factors in the potential incursion and spread of this disease. It is however possible to move infected animals at any time of year.

Control of midges is difficult and although there are things that can be done to reduce their spread, it is unlikely that the risk of them can be removed on any individual farm. Reducing the risk is therefore the aim.

The main preventative measure is movement controls and restrictions for susceptible livestock species in relevant areas to reduce the opportunity for vector transmission between holdings. Midges often accompany the animals as they move e.g. in livestock trailers, therefore moving animals increases the risk of midge spread too.

Synthetic pyrethroid (e.g. deltamethrin)-based pour-on insecticidal products are approved in the UK for use on cattle and sheep against some biting flies and lice. In laboratory conditions, deltamethrin is a highly effective toxin for Culicoides (midges). However, their efficacy has not been shown outside of the laboratory, and they have not been proven to have a direct impact on BTV transmission.

Deltamethrin-based products can be used at maximum levels recommended by the manufacturer and may at least reduce the biting pressure on an animal, although this effect will be temporary. The same active ingredient would be appropriate for spraying of housing/trailers for animal movement.

Please follow product label recommendations and adhere to responsible use guidelines when using insecticides to ensure no environmental adverse affects to non-target organisms.  

Midges breed in damp soils with high organic content, such as muckheaps. So, keeping these distant from susceptible livestock and livestock-housing may reduce biting frequency and therefore BTV transmission.

Unless specifically directed to by an inspector, or instructed to by the conditions of an official notice, declaration or licence, you are not required to house ruminant animals at your premises. However, you may wish to consult your veterinary surgeon for advice on any protective steps you might take.

Unless specifically directed to by an inspector, or instructed to by the conditions of an official notice, declaration or licence, you are not required to take action to kill or control insects around your premises. However you may wish to consult your veterinary surgeon for advice on any protective steps you might take.

The number for the Bluetongue hotline is 024 7771 0386. NFU members can also access the CallFirst hotline: 0370 845 8458

There are several serotypes of BTV but vaccines are only available for certain serotypes. Unfortunately, there are no authorised vaccines for BTV3 in the UK or EU. Vaccination against BTV3 is therefore not possible.

Vaccines do not offer cross-protection, i.e., vaccinating your animals against BTV8 will not protect them from infection with BTV3.

Unfortunately, there are no authorised vaccines for BTV3. Vaccination against BTV3 is therefore not possible.

The decision to vaccinate against other strains of BTV is a matter for farmers based on the possible impacts for their businesses. In the current situation we do not believe there is a case for mandatory vaccination, nor for the Government to provide or fund vaccination. Our focus is to ensure that farmers and their private vets are fully informed of the current situation.

For serotypes where vaccination is possible (such as BTV 1, 2, 4 and 8), vaccination is the best way to protect livestock. Livestock keepers should discuss with their vet whether vaccination is an option which will benefit their business. Veterinary surgeons can apply to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate for a Special Import Certificate, which will allow keepers to import safe and effective bluetongue vaccine directly from the EU to vaccinate their stock. 

Because BTV is transmitted by midges carrying the virus, and not from one animal to another, vaccination will not necessarily prevent all future potential disease spread but would enable farmers to protect their own herds.   

Unfortunately, there are no authorised vaccines for BTV3 in the UK or EU. Vaccination against BTV 3 is therefore not possible.

  • Following confirmation of BTV in a non-imported animal in England, the UK may no longer be considered as a BTV-free country.
  • Trade with trading partners, including trade to the EU, may be subject to additional control measures imposed by the importing authority.
  • Some countries may restrict UK exports of susceptible animals or their products as a result, although it is expected that exports of many commodities will be able to continue. In some cases, there may be a requirement for additional checks, testing or treatments.
  • The latest information on availability of individual export Health Certificates can be found via Get an export health certificate – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

To protect the biosecurity status of Northern Ireland movement of susceptible livestock from GB will now be stopped as epidemiological investigations continue. Movement of germplasm will be subject to appropriate restriction.

Action is being taken to ensure the risk of spread of the disease is reduced – the infected cow has been humanely culled to reduce the risk of onward disease transmission and livestock movements from the affected premises are restricted.

We have also put in place a 10km temporary control zone around the affected farm which will restrict movements of susceptible animals except under license in that wider area, while we undertake additional surveillance to assure ourselves this is an isolated case. The fact that this single case was picked up shows our surveillance programme is working.

Culling may be used in circumstances where it is believed disease is not circulating and an outbreak might be prevented.  Once bluetongue is known to be circulating in the domestic midge population, culling of livestock is not an effective control measure to deal with disease.

If your animal were required to be culled to control Bluetongue disease then you would receive compensation for that animal (unless you had imported diseased animals).  However, we would not expect to cull large numbers of animals since culling becomes ineffective once disease is established within midge populations.

We have robust rules and procedures in place to protect our borders from disease and animals or their germinal products can only be imported if they meet these. It is essential that keepers source responsibly.

Over and above this, we carry out compulsory post-import testing of susceptible animals from areas around and known to have BTV infected regions.

The disease does not affect meat or animal products, and meat and milk from infected animals are safe to eat and drink. Over and above this, we carry out compulsory post-import testing of susceptible animals from areas around and known to have BTV infected regions.

No, BTV viruses do not affect people.

Ruminant wildlife such as deer could become infected if the disease was circulating in the local midge population.

The main direct economic impacts will vary depending on the strain of BTV and at this stage, with only one animal infected, we cannot make such assessments.  

Bluetongue can reduce milk yield, cause sickness, and reduce reproductive performance. The imposition of movement controls may require some farmers to change their usual routes to markets.  Farmers may incur costs from reduced market access, including export markets.

As a notifiable disease, the control of bluetongue is legislated for. The control strategy includes good biosecurity and animal care, responsible sourcing of animals, monitoring of the disease situation in Europe and internationally, and having in place appropriate risk-based import conditions and testing.

Vigilance by animal keepers is key. Anyone keeping an animal must notify any suspicion of notifiable disease. This will be investigated by government veterinary inspectors.

Bluetongue FAQs following announcement of seasonally vector low period – 02/02/2024

The following FAQs are being shared to help clarify details for farmers in the bluetongue temporary control zones (TCZ) following the announcement of the seasonally low vector activity and subsequent changes to disease control measures made by Defra on 01 February 2024. 

Responses have been collated by the Ruminant Health Welfare group and are correct at time of issue.  Importantly, the situation continues to evolve; you are advised to check the Gov.UK and RHW websites for updates and the latest advice.

Defra has announced a seasonally vector low period for the BTV-3 virus.

This means that due to the reduced risk from midges, some restrictions on movements of live animals from the Temporary Control Zones (TCZ) can now be eased if they meet certain conditions, including testing negative in a pre-movement test. A licence is still required.

Restrictions on movements of animals into and within the TCZs have also been eased.  

Due to various factors including a decrease in temperature, we are now in a seasonally vector low period, which is when midge activity is much lower, and they are not actively feeding.

Low temperatures also mean that the virus cannot replicate in the midge, so even if a midge does feed on an infected animal, the risk of transmission to another animal is low.

Considering current environmental and vector conditions, Defra have taken the decision not to cull inflected animals where test results indicate older infection and the presence of BTV antibodies. This is because their risk of spread of the virus is extremely low. Infected animals will still be restricted at their current locations and other disease mitigation measures taken as appropriate.

Strict rules on the movement of livestock from regions affected by bluetongue are already in place. Farmers are reminded that animals moved from these regions must be accompanied by the relevant licences.

It is possible for some animals that were previously prevented from moving out of the TCZ to now move out of the TCZ. Animals that move must meet certain conditions which are detailed in the licence, including testing negative in a pre-movement test.  You can also move animals direct to slaughter at a designated abattoir.

If you wish to move animals onto, out of or within the TCZ a licence is required – apply here: Bluetongue: apply for a specific movement licence – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

During the seasonally vector low period it is also possible to move animals between farms under a general licence although you will need to check whether the destination premises has already completed its official BTV-3 surveillance testing.  Further details can be found here

You should apply for a licence in the usual way giving at least 5-days’ notice. If pre-movement testing is required you may need to allow more time to get a pre-movement test. If you have a valid surveillance sample and negative test results taken on or after 18 January this may be sufficient to allow the licence to be granted.  If pre- or post-movement (post movement tests are only required for urgent welfare moves) testing is required, you will be advised by APHA what testing is required.  The following steps are likely to be required:

  1. Keeper arranges with their private veterinary surgeon to take 1x EDTA blood sample (purple top tube) for RT-PCR and 1x plain blood sample (red top tube) for serological analysis from each animal. This must be paid for by the keeper.
  2. The veterinary surgeon will complete a sample submission form, available on the Pirbright website.
  3. On the sample submission form, the veterinary surgeon is to select both options for RT-PCR and serology testing for bluetongue virus.
  4. The veterinary surgeon is to write in the additional information section of the sample submission form that this submission is for (specify as appropriate) pre-/post- movement testing.
  5. The veterinary surgeon is to write in bold at the top of the form: ‘TCZ moves’.
  6. The veterinary surgeon is to package the sample in a way that prevents leaking.
  7. The veterinary surgeon will send the package by Royal Mail, ideally through next day delivery, addressing it to: NVRL, The Pirbright Institute, Ash Road, Pirbright, Woking, GU24 0NF
  8. Pirbright will complete the tests for bluetongue and will send the results by email to the veterinary surgeon and the APHA licencing team. Results are usually returned within a week. Government will pay for the cost of testing but not sampling)

You will not be granted a licence for any animal that does not test negative for both PCR and serology.

Your usual vet will be able to take samples for a pre movement test for you.  However, if you had compulsory BTV sampling done on or after 18 January 2024, please see the question below.

This depends on when that test was done. If your sampling was on or after 18 January 2024, APHA will have collected two samples:

One will have been tested for virus (RT-PCR test any virus positive animals will have been notified to the owner).  The other has been stored at the lab and it may be possible to test the second sample for antibodies.

It is important that you indicate on your licence application that your animals have been sampled tested. 

For animals to be moved, both virus and antibody tests must be negative.

Blood samples that are stored can deteriorate over time and some stored samples may become unsuitable for testing. In this case, you will be required to ask your own vet to collect further samples. Additionally, it is worth noting that retrieving samples can take time. 

If your move is urgent, for example to move in-lamb ewes ahead of spring lambing, you should consider asking your vet to retest all animals and resubmit samples asap.  Farmers will be responsible for the veterinary costs for sampling involved, Defra will fund the cost of testing.

Can I move this animal?

Can I move other animals from my farm?

Is there an increased risk of spread on my farm?

The risk at this point is considered low. However, until sufficient time has elapsed for the animal to clear any virus from its body, it will not be permitted to move. 

Other animals may be moved from the farm under licence (see details of licence requirements) with pre movement testing.

If the animal is pregnant, or is an entire male, there is a risk of transmission to the foetus or through semen.  Please seek advice from APHA.  If the animal is not pregnant and is not an entire male, it is likely these animals will have natural immunity and it would be advantageous to keep these animals in a herd or flock.

Defra has taken the decision not to cull inflected animals where test results indicate older infection and the presence of BTV-3 antibodies, which means they now have increased natural immunity to the disease.

Infected animals will be restricted at their current locations and other disease mitigation measures taken as appropriate.

It is not advised to cull these animals purely for testing positive

No, the disease does not affect meat or animal products, and meat and milk from infected animals are safe to eat and drink. Over and above this, we carry out compulsory post-import testing of susceptible animals from areas around and known to have BTV infected regions.

If faced with challenges, there are a number of resources you can access and charities that you can contact for support.

RABI – 0800 188 4444

FCN – 03000 111 999

YANA – 0300 323 0400

Addington Fund – 01926 620135

DPJ Foundation– 0800 587 4262

We Are Farming Minds – 0808 802 0070 / Text – 07786 203 130

Forage Aid – 01926 620135

Mind Charity – 0300 123 3393

Samaritans – 116 123

C.A.L.L (Wales)  0800 132 737

RSABI (Scotland) – 0800 1234 555