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African Virus To Heap More Misery On British Farmers

13 August 2007

UK - Farmers hoping the foot and mouth outbreak has been contained face a new threat from a virus that could kill millions of sheep.

British farmers face culling fears and now a deadly African virus

Bluetongue has ravaged mainland Europe and could reach the UK any day.

Infected animals' tongues turn blue with asphyxiation as the disease swells their necks.

Bluetongue is spread by midges, meaning it could literally arrive from the Continent on the next gust of wind.

Although it originated in Africa, the increasingly warm climate has attracted insects bearing the disease to northern Europe, where it has wrought havoc on sheep in Belgium, France, Germany and Holland.

Britain's 34million-strong sheep population has no natural immunity to bluetongue, so its arrival could see animals succumbing in even greater numbers than elsewhere.

Scientists say it is a matter of when, not if, the disease crosses the English Channel - by midges being swept along on easterly winds.

Experts at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) are receiving daily briefings from the Met Office.

When it reaches Britain, restriction zones around infected farms will need to be 15 times larger than the 10km ones for foot and mouth, because bluetongue's spread is insect-borne rather than being passed directly from animal to animal.

Great swathes of the countryside will need to be sealed off.

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Source: TheDailyMail


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