Warning: ‘high probability’ that a new variant of bluetongue will spread from Europe

Farmers have been warned of a “very high” likelihood of a new bluetongue species being introduced via mosquitoes brought over from Europe.

Bluetongue is an animal disease that affects livestock such as cattle and sheep, with symptoms including a blue and swollen tongue, fever, reduced milk production and in the most severe cases, death.

It has no influence on humans or food safety.

It is spread via biting mosquitoes, and although there is no evidence that bluetongue is currently circulating in mosquitoes in Britain, the government warns that the insects can be blown by the wind over long distances and transmit the virus from mainland Europe.

A new bluetongue strain known as BTV-3, which emerged in the Netherlands in September 2023, was first identified in England in November.

Cows eat grass in a field
Bluetongue is an animal disease that affects livestock such as cattle and sheep (PA).

A risk assessment published by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) following last year’s outbreak warns that there is a very high probability of a new introduction of the bluetongue virus of the new BTV-3 strain into Britain in 2024, by spreading infected biting mosquitoes. brought over from Northern Europe.

There is also a medium risk of another species, BTV-8, being introduced by mosquitoes blown from northern France.

Biting mosquitoes are most active between April and November, and the timing of a possible outbreak of the disease will depend on temperatures and wind patterns, officials said.

Farmers are urged to remain vigilant and monitor their animals regularly, while ensuring their livestock, land and up-to-date contact details are registered with the APHA in the event of an outbreak.

There is currently no vaccine in Britain for the BTV-3 strain of the virus, although a new vaccine has been approved for emergency use in the Netherlands and Belgium from early May.