I am sure many of you will be aware that since September 2023, Bluetongue (BTV) has made an appearance in sheep and cattle across Western Europe, including the UK.


For those of you who are not aware, Bluetongue (BTV) is a viral notifiable disease which affects all ruminants including sheep, cattle, goats and deer and camelids, such a llama and alpaca. There are several serotypes of BTV and the latest strain of concern is BTV-3.


Symptoms of BTV vary across ruminants but include fever, lesions, redness of the mouth, eyes, nose, reddening of the skin above the hoof, excessive salivation and nasal discharge. However, animals may show little or no clinical signs of the disease. It is important to note that BTV does not affect humans or food safety, meaning meat and milk from infected animals are safe to eat and drink. BTV is mainly spread by adult-infected midges biting an animal susceptible to the disease and infected midges can spread locally and more widely in certain temperatures and wind conditions.


APHA confirmed in early May that whilst there is no evidence that BTV-3 is circulating in the biting midge population of GB, we are no longer in the seasonally low vector period due to a range of factors including warmer temperatures. In its updated risk assessment APHA confirmed a very high probability of BTV-3 spreading to ruminants in GB and warned that the virus could be more widely spread as infected midges are blown over from northern Europe.

Vaccination is the best way to protect livestock but unfortunately there are no authorised vaccines for BTV-3 available in the UK and vaccines authorised for other strains of Bluetongue, such as BTV-8, do not offer any cross protection. However, three vaccines have been approved for use in the Netherlands and one for use in Belgium. As a result, this is being rolled out throughout the Netherlands, with one dose being administered to sheep, and two administered several weeks apart to cattle.

Closer to home, Welsh Government has started planning for a potential BTV-3 incursion this summer. Whilst any outbreak is likely to be centred in either the South or East of England – depending which way the wind blows the midges in from – the impacts could be felt further afield and there will be implications for farmers across the UK, including for examples rules around the movement of animals from and around surrounding any outbreaks. NFU Cymru is actively engaged with Welsh Government and is working with colleagues in England to ensure lessons are learnt from how the BTV-3 cases to date have been dealt with. We are also working with organisations from across the agriculture and veterinary sectors as part of the Ruminant Health and Welfare Group to ensure coordinated and consistent messaging, including on best practise, is being shared around control of BTV-3.

In the meantime, the advice to farmers remains the same – beware when buying animals in, take action to prioritise biosecurity and report any suspicious clinical signs, and always remain vigilant.