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The Rise Of Bluetongue Disease

24 September 2007

UK - Bluetongue is a mysterious disease, with no suitable vaccine, but there are still reasons for optimism for British farmers, despite the case at a Suffolk farm.

The virus is of the same type as northern Europe suffers

If bluetongue were to take hold in Britain it would change the landscape.

Anywhere which has hills dotted with sheep would be devastated. The strain of the disease found at a rare breeds farm in Suffolk has come from northern Europe.

There where it has struck flocks of sheep have seen 30-35% of their numbers dying.

The likely route for its arrival is in a cloud of midges blown by warm winds across from Germany, the Low Countries or north-eastern France. One bite from an infected midge is enough to transfer the disease to an animal.

No-one knows how bluetongue came to be in northern Europe, says Professor Peter Mertens of the Institute of Animal Health at Pirbright in Surrey.

In southern Europe as temperatures have risen, the disease has spread from Turkey through Bulgaria and into Greece and the Balkans, as well as from North Africa to Italy, and from Morocco to Spain and Portugal.

Devastating potential

But there has to be a fourth route of transmission, Prof Mertens says. The strain found at the Suffolk farm, and in northern Europe, is type 8, not the same as that affecting southern Europe.

There are also hundreds of miles of uninfected territory between the northern and southern outbreaks. The type 8 strain has originated in Africa, but how it travelled north is a mystery.

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Source: BBCnews


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