Guidance

Bluetongue: how to spot and report the disease

How to spot bluetongue, what to do if you suspect it and measures to prevent its spread.

Bluetongue affects:

  • sheep
  • other ruminants such as cows and goats
  • camelids such as llamas

Humans aren’t affected, nor are animal products or meat.

The last outbreak in England, Scotland or Wales was in 2007.

Bluetongue is a notifiable animal disease. If you suspect it you must report it immediately by calling the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301. In Wales, contact 0300 303 8268. In Scotland, contact your local Field Services Office. Failure to do so is an offence.

Current situation

If you keep livestock, you must continue to keep a close watch for, and report, any signs of bluetongue disease in your animals.

There is an equal risk of two separate types of bluetongue (BTV-4 and BTV-8) spreading into the UK if infected midges are carried by the wind to the south and south-east of England. The whole of mainland France has now been declared a Restriction Zone for both these types of the bluetongue virus.

The exact level of risk continues to depend on the level of disease in nearby areas of Europe, as well as on the weather. You can get more information in our detailed assessments of the risk.

If you plan to bring animals into the UK from France (or bring them back from visiting a show there) they must first be vaccinated against both types (BTV-8 and BTV-4). You should discuss this with your private vet before you consider importing animals from Europe into an unvaccinated herd.

You should also work with your private vet to consider whether vaccination would be an appropriate protection for your herd or flock.

How to spot bluetongue

APHA will investigate if you report that you suspect a case of bluetongue.

In sheep

In sheep the main signs of bluetongue are:

  • ulcers in the mouth
  • discharge of mucus and drooling from mouth and nose
  • swelling of the mouth, head and neck and the coronary band (where the skin of the leg meets the horn of the foot)

Other clinical signs include:

  • red skin as a result of blood collecting beneath the surface
  • fever
  • lameness
  • breathing problems

In cattle

Cattle are the main carriers of bluetongue. Infected cattle generally do not show any signs of the disease, but occasionally signs can include:

  • swelling and ulcers in the mouth
  • nasal discharge
  • red skin and eyes as a result of blood collecting beneath the surface
  • swollen teats
  • tiredness

Other animals rarely show signs of the disease.

Photos of clinical signs

We’ve published some photos of clinical signs of bluetongue disease on Flickr.

How bluetongue is spread

Midges carry the bluetongue virus. The disease spreads when infected midges bite an animal affected by the disease. The midge season is normally March to September. The weather (especially temperature and wind direction) affects how the disease can spread.

Preventing and controlling bluetongue

You can help to prevent the disease by practising good biosecurity on your premises.

If you trade animals from outside the UK, you should consider whether they might be carrying the disease.

If bluetongue is confirmed APHA will control the outbreak by following the contingency plan for exotic notifiable diseases and the bluetongue control strategy.

If there is an outbreak then APHA will place movement restrictions in zones around the affected premises.

Getting your animals vaccinated

You can get and use authorised bluetongue vaccines for your sheep and cattle. You need to get a general licence to vaccinate your animals if they’re outside a restricted zone for bluetongue.

If you’re considering whether to vaccinate your animals, you should speak to your vet about the benefits of vaccination. It can take up to 6 weeks for your animals to be fully immune as your animals must have 2 injections of the vaccine, 3 weeks apart.

Movement restrictions on animals or their germplasm in a bluetongue outbreak

There are currently no restricted zones for bluetongue in place for England, Scotland or Wales.

If there’s a bluetongue outbreak there’ll be restrictions on where you can move live ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats, deer or camlids) and germplasm (ovum, embryos or semen).

These restrictions affect farmed and zoo animals. The controls depend on which restricted zone or area your animals or their germplasm are in and where you’re moving them to (for example for slaughter at an abattoir or to market).

You may be able to move live ruminants or their germplasm out of or through a protection or surveillance zone under a specific or general licence following a veterinary risk assessment. A risk assessment is done on a case-by-case basis by APHA vets to assess the disease risk of moving animals and what needs to be done to avoid or minimise that risk.

Restricted zones

Restricted zones vary in size:

  • control zone - at least 20km around infected premises
  • protection zone - at least 100km around infected premises
  • surveillance zone - at least 150km around the infected premises

The ‘free area’ is the rest of England, Scotland and Wales that isn’t under movement restrictions. There are restrictions if you want to move your animals to and from a restricted zone for example for a show.

Control zone

You can’t move your ruminants between different premises within a control zone, to any other zones, or to the free area.

Protection zone

You can’t move animals to a premises in a control zone. You can move ruminants within the protection zone as long as there are no clinical signs of bluetongue on the day of transport.

You can move ruminants to a surveillance zone, if it passes a veterinary risk assessment, if they’re either:

You can move ruminants and germplasm to a free area, Northern Ireland, or other EU countries if they pass a veterinary risk assessment or have a health certificate and:

You can only move ruminants and their germplasm to a non-EU country (a ‘third country’) if they meet the import requirements of the destination country. Contact the APHA Centre for International Trade, Carlisle for more information (for example on a country’s requirements).

You can only move animals and their germplasm to a third country if they meet the import requirements of the destination country.

Surveillance zone

You can’t move animals to a control zone. There are no restrictions on moving animals to a protection zone.

You can move ruminants within the surveillance zone as long as there’s no clinical signs of bluetongue on the day of transport.

You can move ruminants and germplasm to a free area, Northern Ireland, or other EU countries if they pass a veterinary risk assessment or have a health certificate and:

You can only move ruminants and their germplasm to a third country if they meet the import requirements of the destination country. Contact the APHA Centre for International Trade, Carlisle for more information (for example on a country’s requirements).

Moving live ruminants from a disease free area through a Restricted Zone

You need to be licensed if you plan to transport animals from a disease free area to another disease-free area through a restricted zone.

This is likely, following a veterinary risk assessment, to be by meeting the requirements of a general licence that would be published here in the event of an outbreak.

Bluetongue legislation

The main EU legislation on bluetongue is Directive 2007/75.

The main domestic legislation is the Bluetongue Regulations 2008. Amendments to allow vaccination under licence were made by the Bluetongue (Amendment) Regulations 2012.

Published 26 August 2014
Last updated 18 October 2018 + show all updates
  1. Contact details for reporting a notifiable disease updated.
  2. Updated the current situation to take account of situation in France.
  3. Added a link to photos of clinical signs of bluetongue disease.
  4. Updated link to the latest qualitative risk assessment for bluetongue virus (BTV-8) entry into the UK.
  5. Update on details for movements during an outbreak
  6. Updated following bluetongue virus (BTV-8) risk assessment of entry into the UK in 2016.
  7. AHVLA documents have been re-assigned to the new Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).
  8. AHVLA documents have been re-assigned to the new Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).
  9. First published.