Warning to farmers over bluetongue case in Surrey

A flock of sheep staring at the camera in a field
Sheep are among livestock prone to bluetongue [Getty Images]

Livestock farmers are being warned of an outbreak of a new strain of bluetongue after a case was recorded in Surrey.

The virus, spread by midges, causes mouth lesions and lameness in hooved animals such as sheep and cattle.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said there had so far been 126 cases of the new strain, called BTV-3, in Kent, Norfolk, Suffolk and Surrey.

Defra has introduced control zones, limiting the movement of livestock, in a bid to keep the disease in check.

Bluetongue can lead to animals being euthanised and affect milk yields in cattle.

There are concerns that as the weather gets warmer midges will be blown across the English Channel from the Continent, where there have been more than 6,000 cases.

Hugh Broom, who farms near Dorking and is the chair of the National Farmers' Union's East Livestock branch, said: "I went to Holland with the NFU at the end of January to speak to farmers.

"In some cases in sheep flocks the mortality is as high as 30%.

"We need to get a vaccine as soon as we can. It's something the Dutch have got, they've emergency licensed a vaccine which is being rolled out as we speak, there's another vaccine which is about to be rolled out as well.

"Last week the Belgians announced an emergency regulation to licence a vaccine there.

"If it turns up and we haven't got a vaccine available it could have devastating consequences to our sheep flocks."

Ellie Brown, deputy chief veterinary officer at Defra, said: "We're looking at all the options for vaccines.

"Unfortunately the strain we had in the autumn, bluetongue three, there isn't currently a licensed vaccine, so we're working very closely with manufacturers to understand where they are with that, looking at all the options to bring that to use as soon as possible.

"We don't think there'll be an authorised vaccine till next year, but we're certainly looking at if there are options to bring it forward."

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