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Culicoides sonorensis the bluetongue virus biting midge

Culicoides sonorensis the bluetongue virus biting midge

I’ve been hanging onto this story to see if there were any developments. To date, there haven’t been.

Last week bluetongue serotype 1 (BTV1) was found on a farm in the North West, near Blackpool. It was detected in five imported pedigree Bazadaise dairy cattle from an area in France battling with both BTV1 and BTV8. The cows were culled along with one other animal in the same consignment.

These cows were moved perfectly legally having been vaccinated against BTV1 and BTV8 sixty days before travelling to the UK, following the current procedure set out by DEFRA. But, the cattle appear to have been infected with the BTV1 strain of the disease around the same time they were vaccinated and showed low level viremia when post-imported tested by DEFRA.

Defra said there was no evidence of the disease circulating, so no movement controls or additional restrictions had been put in place.

Chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens said:
“Taking into account the epidemiological evidence and the consideration of the risk represented to British livestock, I have taken the decision to cull these animals.
This incident shows how important it is for farmers to consider potential disease risks when buying stock. Buyers need to consider how best to protect their own businesses and those of their neighbours and make sure they are clear about the stock they are intending to buy.”

Too right it does!

What astounds me is the lack of compulsory testing before the animals are exported. I know if I wanted a particular breed of cattle I would think very, very carefully about purchasing my breeding stock from a country  reeling from the effects of Bluetongue strains not yet present in the UK (well actually, I just wouldn’t!). If it was a matter of life and death (though for the life of me I can’t see that anything would be that important) I would insist on the animals being tested  prior to they leaving their home premises and before they were anywhere near British shores.

Dr Ruth Watkins at least seems to understand the risks involved when importing animals from Bluetongue infected countries. From a conversation she had with Warmwell

“From a diagnostic and virologist point of view,” she says “when vaccinating cattle for possible export – (valuable animals that are special in some way) – blood samples should be taken and stored at the time vaccination is begun and then, three weeks after the second dose of vaccination, when it is known for sure that animals are going to be exported, a further blood sample should be taken. Both blood samples should then be tested for the presence of antibody and checked for bluetongue virus RNA1 and 8 or other serotypes.
While such tests might cost up to £100 pounds or so, the £1000s spent on pedigree animals and transport puts such a figure in perspective. A farmer gets no compensation for imported animals that are subsequently culled – but if such testing were done before animals are moved into the UK it would do much for the safety of movements and the reputation – and pockets – of both importers and exporters.”

She adds ruefully, “Most farmers don’t understand enough about testing. Rational virus diagnosis – i.e. using all the tests at your command – is not routinely practised and understood in veterinary medicine – but surely farmers would rather these tests were done.”

I most certainly would – wouldn’t you?

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It was hot and windy and oh-so-bright. Friday, last week. The sea spangled and sparkled in ten million dazzling triangles momentarily blinding the eye with strings of black blots gliding across a backdrop of shimmering rainbows.

We strolled slowly through the crowds, contented cats full of tapenade (a paste of olives, tuna, anchovy and capers), anchoïade (crushed anchovies in oil, served with raw vegetables), grand aioli (poached salt cod, with vegetables and aioli sauce), farci (aubergine, courgette, tomato, onion stuffed with a delicately perfumed forcemeat on a rich tomato sauce) and tourte (a pie of potatoes, onion and garlic bound together with cream and eggs, wrapped in cured ham and crumbly pastry, served with crème fraiche and salad) washed down with glasses of ice cold rosé, the palest of pale pink. We watched in relaxed companionship the remains of the morning’s fish market being packed away and listened to the harsh nasal twang of swarthy Marseillais fisher-folk as they hollered and shouted to one another across the port above the impatient revving traffic and gush of their flushing hoses. Little Camille, entranced by twinkling rainbow prisms caught in the cascade of cleaning water, ran, arms outstretched, trying to catch the elusive crystal drops. And a seagull shat on Benjamin.

In all the clamour I almost didn’t hear it. Insistent, irritated it brring-brringed, bring-brringed, brrringed against my hip. My phone! I pressed it firmly against one ear but even with my hand clamped tightly over the other could barely make out the faint voice at the other end.

“Mum…..bluetongue…we’m….ade….Devon now’s….red could…tion zone!”

“What? What? Olly, can’t hear…shout. Very noisy. What’s that? What? Ohmygod did you say we’re now a protection zone. Oh shit, oh no! Where is it? When did it happen? Have you phoned the vet? What did they say? Oh heavens. You’ll have to vaccinate. Is there any vaccine? What did you say the vets say? What? When? Hang on. Hang on, I’ll just find a hiding place. You want me to come home? Hang on.”

Eventually I got the gist of Olly’s call. We didn’t have bluetongue disease in Devon. The vaccination programme had been going so well they had now advanced the protection zone to Devon. Vaccine should be made available from the 26 May. Hoorah! This was good news, not the catastrophe I originally thought. I asked Olly to call the vets, confirm our stock numbers and get an idea of when the vaccine would be released. A couple of frustrating shouted calls later and we had a clearer idea of timing. The vaccine most probably wouldn’t be available until I was back.

We arrived back last night. I phoned the vets first thing this morning. My vaccine would be ready for collection after four this afternoon. I’ve got it. It’s in my fridge…and tomorrow, first thing, we’ll start bringing the stock back to begin our vaccination programme. Soon, but not just yet, I’ll breath a little more freely!

Karin has very kindly sent me a link to a page from the Institute of Animal Health which has a selection of presentations given by several members of her group at an NFU meeting. You’ll see the presentations listed at the bottom on the left hand side– just click on them to view. (the above link is now working!)

She has also included three papers that you might find interesting

Bluetongue 1 Bluetongue 2 Bluetongue 3

Another link which you might also find informative is Farming on Sunday

If you have any questions about bluetongue the Institue of Animal Health have an email account iah.bluetongue@bbsrc.ac.uk. where your questions will be answered by one of the bluetongue group – the most appropriate person for the question.

Karin will be giving another talk in Cornwall at The Conference Hall, Duchy College, Rosewarne, Nr Camborne TR140AB on Thursday the 22nd May at 7.30pm. If it’s near enough to you I suggest to try to get there as her presentation really is superb.

I hope you find this useful. If there’s anything else you want to know I’ll see if I can help.

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

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