Guidance

Bluetongue: how to spot and report it

The latest bluetongue situation, how to spot it, report it and prevent it spreading.

Applies to England

Bluetongue is a notifiable disease that is mainly spread by biting midges.

Bluetongue affects:

  • sheep
  • cattle
  • other ruminants such as deer and goats
  • camelids such as llamas and alpacas

Rarely, bluetongue can affect dogs and other carnivores if they eat infected material (such as aborted material and afterbirth).

It does not affect people or food safety, but outbreaks can result in prolonged animal movement and trade restrictions.

Latest situation and disease control zones

There are 116 bluetongue cases in England on 67 premises in 4 counties. There are 110 cases in cattle and 6 cases in sheep. There is still no evidence that bluetongue virus is currently circulating in midges in Great Britain. We remain in a seasonally vector low period.

Update 19 February: temporary control zones lifted

From noon on Monday 19 February the temporary control zones (TCZs) in Kent, Norfolk and parts of Suffolk were lifted. Positive high-risk animals will remain under restriction as well as premises in the zones which have not yet been sampled. APHA has contacted all livestock keepers in the former zones to discuss what this means for them.

Find details of all current and historical bluetongue disease control zones in England, including rules you must follow in these areas.

Bluetongue disease control zones

There are no current bluetongue control zones in force. Some animals at premises in south and east England remain under specific bluetongue restrictions.

Types of bluetongue virus

A number of different types (serotypes) of bluetongue virus (BTV) are circulating in Europe including:  

  • BTV-1 
  • BTV-3  
  • BTV-4  
  • BTV-8

In Great Britain, bluetongue serotype 3 (BTV-3) has been found in Kent, Suffolk and Norfolk.

Find details of all bluetongue disease control zones in England, including rules you must follow in these areas.

Bluetongue has been reported in a number of European countries. Go to the current outbreak assessments and the topical issues page for more detail.

You should discuss the risks of importing stock from BTV affected countries with your vet.

Movement licences

You can only move animals onto or off a bluetongue restricted premises if you meet licence conditions.

Specific movement licences

You can apply for a specific movement licence to move animals on and off premises which are under bluetongue restrictions.

The application guidance includes:

  • how to apply for a specific licence
  • the types of movements covered by specific licences
  • slaughterhouses that accept animals from TCZs

General movement licences

There are no general licences currently in force for bluetongue as the temporary control zones have been lifted.

Surveillance visits in temporary control zones 

APHA is carrying out surveillance visits on premises with susceptible animals in the temporary control zones. This includes zoos and wildlife centres.  

On a surveillance visit, they will:  

  • check records  
  • inspect susceptible animals and may take blood samples 

Lambs and kids under 12 weeks and calves under 7 days old will be inspected. They will only be sampled if the dam tests positive. 

APHA will contact you in advance to schedule a visit and confirm stock numbers. You must assist APHA with sampling by: 

  •  gathering up the animals
  •  providing handling facilities for safe sampling   

If your animal tests positive, APHA will notify you within 48 hours of taking samples. This will be before they make the case public.  

Most infected animals will not be culled when the risk of disease spreading through midges is low. Instead you will need to restrict infected animals at their locations and take disease mitigation measures. If infected animals are culled to reduce the risk of disease transmission you will receive compensation. 

If a case of bluetongue is confirmed on your premises, APHA will also:  

  • check any unsampled animals you own at all locations (even if they are outside of the TCZ)
  • monitor negative animals and retest them if needed  
  • test offspring of positive animals  
  • place all other susceptible animals at the affected premises under movement restrictions until they can confirm that no transmission has occurred  
  • trace and sample any animals moved from the holding where any positive animals were

APHA will not notify you of negative results. If you have not received notification within a week, you can assume results are negative.

Signs of bluetongue

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

In sheep

Sheep are more likely to show obvious clinical signs of bluetongue than cattle if they become infected. Signs of bluetongue in sheep include:

  • ulcers or sores in the mouth and nose
  • discharge from the eyes or nose and drooling from mouth
  • swelling of the lips, tongue, 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
  • abortion, foetal deformities and stillbirths
  • death

In lambs

Lambs can become infected with bluetongue before birth if the dam is infected while pregnant. Signs of infection include:  

  • lambs born small, weak, deformed or blind  
  • death of lambs within a few days of birth  
  • stillbirths 

Livestock keepers and vets should consider bluetongue as a possible cause and report suspicion to APHA immediately.

In cattle

Signs of the disease include:

  • lethargy
  • crusty erosions around the nostrils and muzzle
  • redness of the mouth, eyes, nose
  • reddening of the skin above the hoof
  • nasal discharge
  • reddening and erosions on the teats
  • fever
  • milk drop
  • not eating
  • abortion, foetal deformities and stillbirths

Adult cattle may serve as a source of virus for several weeks while displaying little or no clinical signs of disease and are often the preferred host for insect vectors.

In calves

Calves can become infected with bluetongue before birth if the mother is infected while pregnant. Signs of infection include:

  • calves born small, weak, deformed or blind
  • death of calves within a few days of birth
  • stillbirths

Livestock keepers and vets should consider bluetongue as a possible cause and report suspicion to the APHA immediately.

Photos of clinical signs

There are photos showing the clinical signs of bluetongue on Flickr.

Report suspected bluetongue

If you suspect bluetongue, you must report it immediately by calling:  

  • 03000 200 301 in England  
  • 03003 038 268 in Wales  
  • your local Field Services Office in Scotland  

Bluetongue is a notifiable disease. This means if you do not report it, you’re breaking the law.

How bluetongue is spread

Bluetongue virus is mostly spread by certain species of biting midges (Culicoides species), many of which can be found throughout Great Britain. Midges can also bring the virus over from mainland Europe depending on weather conditions.

Midges are infected with the virus when they bite an infected animal and the virus spreads when the infected midge then bites an uninfected susceptible animal. Once a midge has picked up the bluetongue virus it will be a carrier for the rest of its life. 

The time of year (midges are mainly active between April to November), meteorological conditions (temperature, wind speed and direction and rain), topography and the proximity and density of neighbouring farms with susceptible animals are significant factors in a potential incursion and impact how quickly, and how far midges can spread the disease.

Bluetongue virus can also be spread through biological products such as blood, germinal products (semen or embryos), or the movement of infected animals. It can also spread to Great Britain when infected products germplasm (sperm, eggs and ova) and animals are imported.

Infected pregnant animals can, under certain circumstances, transmit the virus to their unborn offspring. Once born, the infected offspring could act as a source of bluetongue virus.

The severity of the infection depends upon the serotype of the virus and may also be affected by strain. New serotypes continue to be identified but only serotypes 1 to 24 are notifiable.

Preventing and controlling bluetongue

You can help to prevent the disease by:

  • vaccinating your animals with a suitable authorised vaccine
  • responsibly source livestock
  • practising good biosecurity on your premises
  • remaining vigilant
  • housing animals in midge-proof accommodation – this is especially important at dawn and dusk
  • not allowing farm dogs, cats or pets to eat, chew on or play with potentially infected materials (such as aborted material and afterbirth)

Vaccinating your animals

There is no vaccine available for bluetongue virus serotype 3 (BTV-3). This is the serotype that has been confirmed in Great Britain.  

You can vaccinate animals against serotypes 1, 2, 4 and 8. You should discuss with your vet whether vaccination would benefit your business.   

Bluetongue can be transmitted through dirty needles. Animal keepers and vets should follow good practice when treating and vaccinating animals at risk of being infected with bluetongue.  

You need to comply with the requirements of the bluetongue general licence if you wish to vaccinate animals located outside of a restricted zone for bluetongue.  

It can take up to 6 weeks for your animals to be fully immune. Your animals will require a period of time for immunity to develop following vaccination and may need 2 doses of the vaccine, 3 weeks apart.  

Vets can apply to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate for a Special Import Certificate (SIC).  

The certificate allows keepers to import safe and effective bluetongue vaccine directly to vaccinate their stock.

Controlling outbreaks of bluetongue

Find out more about how the government will control an outbreak in:

Importing animals from bluetongue affected countries

You should get advice from your vet about the risks and the health status of animals you want to import, before you import them.

If you import animals you should:

  • make sure animals comply with all of the requirements of the model health certificate to confirm they’ve come from a bluetongue free country or, where a vaccine exists, the animal has been correctly vaccinated against the right strains of bluetongue - this will depend on which country you’re importing from
  • fill in bluetongue declaration GBHC172 if transiting through a bluetongue restricted territory
  • check if current issues relating to imports, exports and EU trade of animals and animal products affect your import
  • consider what additional guarantees the seller can provide - such as a pre-export test to prove the animal is not infected and has immunity to BTV
  • consider pre-vaccinating your flock or herd against the relevant strains of bluetongue before introducing new animals

Movement restrictions will apply to cattle or sheep imported from countries where bluetongue is known to be circulating. These restrictions will apply until the animals have been tested and confirmed free of the disease.

Animals that test positive for bluetongue may be culled or returned to the country of origin. Any animals which travelled in the same vehicle and are at risk of becoming infected may also be culled or returned. No compensation will be paid for the culled or returned animals. This only applies to imported animals.

For UK born and bred animals that are culled to control the spread of disease, compensation will be paid at market value.

All other animals on the premises that are at risk of becoming infected will be placed under movement restrictions. These restrictions will apply until it’s confirmed that the disease has not spread. These restrictions may last several weeks.

Published 26 August 2014
Last updated 22 February 2024 + show all updates
  1. Updated the latest situation section: there are currently 116 bluetongue cases in England on 67 premises in 4 counties.

  2. From noon on Monday 19 February the temporary control zones (TCZs) in Kent, Norfolk and parts of Suffolk were lifted. Positive high-risk animals will remain under restriction as well as premises in the zones which have not yet been sampled.

  3. Updated the Latest situation section: There are 106 bluetongue cases in England on 59 premises in 3 counties.

  4. Updated information on cases: there are 99 bluetongue cases in England on 55 premises in 3 counties, and bluetongue serotype 3 (BTV-3) has been found in Kent, Suffolk and Norfolk. Added detail on specific movement licences: movements from the temporary control zone (TCZ) to slaughterhouses can cover multiple pick-ups from inside the TCZ.

  5. Following active surveillance of premises in the Norfolk temporary control zone (TCZ), 1 new case of bluetongue in cattle has been confirmed at a premises near Damgate.

  6. Following active surveillance of premises in the Norfolk temporary control zone (TCZ), 1 new case of bluetongue in cattle has been confirmed at a premises near Reedham. Added additional details about specific movement licences you can apply for to move animals into, out of or within a TCZ. Calves under 7 days old will be inspected during surveillance visits on premises with susceptible animals in TCZs, this is in addition to lambs and kids under 12 weeks old.

  7. Following active surveillance of premises in the Norfolk temporary control zone (TCZ), 1 new case of bluetongue in cattle has been confirmed at a premises near Norwich.

  8. Following active surveillance of premises in the Norfolk temporary control zone (TCZ), 7 new cases of bluetongue in cattle have been confirmed at a premises near Norwich.

  9. Update 3 February 2024: Following active surveillance of premises in the Norfolk temporary control zone (TCZ), 3 new cases of bluetongue in cattle have been confirmed at a premises near Hales.

  10. Updated the latest situation section with new information about licences and confirmed cases.

  11. Following active surveillance of premises in the Norfolk temporary control zone (TCZ), 3 new cases of bluetongue in cattle and 1 case in a sheep have been confirmed at 2 premises within the ownership near Surlingham. Now we are in a seasonally vector low period, the positive animals will not be culled but will be restricted at their current locations and disease mitigation measures will be taken. The TCZ is not being extended.

  12. Due to a decrease in temperature, we are now in a seasonally vector low period, when midge activity is much lower, and they are not actively feeding. Low temperatures also mean that the virus cannot replicate in the midge, so even if a midge does feed on an infected animal, the risk of transmission to another animal is low. The reduced risk from midges means that some movements of live animals out of the zone are can now be temporarily permitted subject to pre-movement testing and that they meet certain licence conditions. These relaxations will only apply during periods of low vector activity and will not apply to animals that test positive for virus in a pre-movement test.   During this low vector activity period we will also ease the licence restrictions on movements of animals into and within the TCZs.   These restrictions will be revised when vector activity increases again with warmer temperatures, which tends to be March or April. We will keep the situation under review and provide further updates if circumstances necessitate a change in approach.

  13. Updated guidance about surveillance visits in temporary control zones to explain when animals will be culled.

  14. Following active surveillance of premises in the Norfolk temporary control zone (TCZ), 4 new cases of bluetongue in cattle have been confirmed in animals that were grazing within the TCZ during the high risk period.

  15. Following active surveillance of premises in the Norfolk temporary control zone (TCZ), 2 further cases of bluetongue have been confirmed in cattle on a holding near Norwich.

  16. Following active surveillance of premises in both Temporary Control Zones (TCZs), one further case of bluetongue has been confirmed in a cow at a premises near Whitstable. Three cases of bluetongue have also been confirmed in cattle at 2 different premises near Norwich.

  17. Following active surveillance of premises in the North-east Kent temporary control zone, one further case of bluetongue has been confirmed in a cow at a premises near Canterbury.

  18. Following active surveillance of premises in the Norfolk TCZ temporary control zone (TCZ), one further case of bluetongue has been confirmed in a cow at a new premises near Reedham.

  19. Following active surveillance of premises in the Norfolk TCZ temporary control zone (TCZ), a further case of bluetongue has been confirmed in a cow at a new premises near Reedham.

  20. Following active surveillance of premises in the Norfolk TCZ temporary control zone (TCZ), one further case of bluetongue has been confirmed in a cow that has been grazing in the TCZ near St Olaves.

  21. Updated the latest situation. Following active surveillance in the north-east Kent temporary control zone (TCZ), one further case of bluetongue in sheep has been identified on a premises near Aylesham in the existing TCZ.

  22. Updated the 'latest situation' section with a new case and information about surveillance visits in temporary control zones. Guidance under 'signs of bluetongue' and 'preventing and controlling bluetongue' has also been updated.

  23. Following active surveillance in the Norfolk temporary control zone (TCZ), one further case of bluetongue in cattle has been identified on a premises near Limpenhoe in the existing TCZ.

  24. Following active surveillance in the Norfolk temporary control zone (TCZ), one further case of bluetongue in cattle has been identified on a premises near Limpenhoe in the existing TCZ. Following active surveillance in the north-east Kent temporary control zone (TCZ), one further case of bluetongue in a sheep has been identified at a new location in the existing TCZ, in the Canterbury area.

  25. Updated the latest situation. 2 further bluetongue cases have been identified in the existing north-east Kent temporary control zone (in the Sandwich area).

  26. Updated the latest situation. There has been 1 further case in the existing TCZ in the Deal area.

  27. Following active surveillance in the Norfolk temporary control zone (TCZ), 4 further cases of bluetongue in cattle have been identified in the existing TCZ

  28. Following active surveillance in the north-east Kent Temporary Control Zone (TCZ), 3 further cases of bluetongue in cattle have been identified in the existing TCZ in the Deal area. Following active surveillance in the Norfolk Temporary Control Zone (TCZ), 1 further case of bluetongue in cattle has been identified in the existing TCZ.

  29. Following active surveillance in the north-east Kent Temporary Control Zone (TCZ), 1 further case of bluetongue in a bull has been identified in the existing TCZ in the Deal area.

  30. Updated the latest situation. There is a further case of bluetongue in the north-east Kent Temporary Control Zone (TCZ).

  31. Following active surveillance in the north-east Kent Temporary Control Zone (TCZ), 4 further cases of bluetongue in cattle have been identified in the Sandwich Bay area in the TCZ. 3 of the cases are located on a new holding. Also updated guidance on movement licences to move animals from the TCZ to go direct to slaughter.

  32. Following active surveillance in the north-east Kent Temporary Control Zone (TCZ), 3 further cases of bluetongue in cattle have been identified on a new holding in the Sandwich Bay area in the TCZ.

  33. Following active surveillance in the Norfolk Temporary Control Zone (TCZ), a further case of bluetongue in cattle has been identified. The keeper has been notified and the animal will be humanely culled to minimise the risk of onward transmission. The TCZ will not be extended, and movement restrictions continue to apply to cattle, sheep and other ruminants in the zone.

  34. Following active surveillance in the Norfolk Temporary Control Zone (TCZ), a further 2 cases of bluetongue in cattle have been identified. The cattle were on 2 separate premises within the ownership of a single family business. Following active surveillance in the Kent TCZ, a further infected animal has been detected on a premises near Sandwich in Kent. Guidance under 'movement licences' and ‘Controlling outbreaks of bluetongue’ has also been updated.

  35. Following active surveillance in the north-east Kent Temporary Control Zone (TCZ), a further case of bluetongue in a sheep has been identified on a new holding in the Sandwich Bay area in the TCZ. The animal will be humanely culled to minimise the risk of onward transmission. The TCZ is not being extended and movement restrictions continue to apply to cattle, sheep and other ruminants in the zone. This brings the total number of cases to 23. There is currently still no evidence that bluetongue virus is circulating in Great Britain. Surveillance is ongoing.

  36. Following active surveillance in the north-east Kent Temporary Control Zone (TCZ), a further 3 cases of bluetongue in cattle have been identified in the Sandwich Bay area from the same herd as the 5 positives confirmed yesterday on 15 December. The holding is situated in the existing TCZ. All 3 animals will be humanely culled to minimise the risk of onward transmission. The TCZ is not being extended and movement restrictions continue to apply to cattle, sheep and other ruminants in the Zone. This brings the total number of cases to 22 on 8 different holdings. There is currently still no evidence that bluetongue virus is circulating in Great Britain. Surveillance is ongoing.

  37. Following active surveillance in the north-east Kent Temporary Control Zone (TCZ), a further 5 cases of bluetongue in cattle have been identified on a holding in the Sandwich Bay area. The holding is situated in the existing TCZ. All five animals will be humanely culled to minimise the risk of onward transmission. The TCZ is not being extended and movement restrictions continue to apply to cattle, sheep and other ruminants in the Zone.

  38. Following active surveillance in the north-east Kent Temporary Control Zone (TCZ), a further 3 cases of bluetongue in cattle have been identified on a holding in the Sandwich Bay area. The holding is situated in the existing TCZ. Guidance under 'Importing animals from bluetongue affected countries' has also been updated.

  39. Following routine surveillance, a further 2 cases in cattle have been identified on a farm near Cantley, Broadland, Norfolk.  A 10km temporary control zone (TCZ) has been declared around the premises.

  40. Following active surveillance in the temporary control zone (TCZ), a ninth case of bluetongue serotype 3 has been confirmed in a single sheep, on a mixed cattle and sheep farm in the existing TCZ. There is currently no evidence that there is circulating virus. Surveillance is ongoing.

  41. Following active surveillance in the temporary control zone (TCZ), an eighth case of bluetongue serotype 3 in a cow has been confirmed. This animal is on a new premises located within the TCZ. There is currently no evidence that there is circulating virus. Surveillance is ongoing.

  42. Following active surveillance, a seventh case of bluetongue serotype 3 has been confirmed. This animal was on the same premises as the sixth case announced on the 4 December and was, until recently, grazing on land outside of the original temporary control zone (TCZ).

  43. Following active surveillance of premises linked to cases within the 10km temporary control zone (TCZ), a further case of bluetongue serotype 3 in cattle has been identified. This animal was until recently grazing on a premises outside the TCZ. This brings the total number of cases to 6. As a result, the TCZ has been extended.

  44. Following active surveillance within the 10km temporary control zone (TCZ) a further 4 cases in cattle of bluetongue serotype 3 have been identified on 2 additional premises, all within the 10km TCZ and within 5km of the first finding near Canterbury, Kent.  All 4 animals will be humanely culled to reduce the risk of onward transmission.  There is no evidence that there is circulating virus in the midge population. The 10km TCZ remains in place in place and surveillance is ongoing. Guidance under 'Movement licences' has also been updated.

  45. Updated the movement licences section. Added a link to a form to apply for a specific licence.

  46. Added a section on movement licences.

  47. Updated the latest situation section to reflect that a single cow has tested positive for bluetongue serotype 3 on a premises near Canterbury, Kent. Also updated the guidance throughout the page.

  48. Updated the current situation section. Removed Belgium and added the Netherlands to reflect the changing disease situation in Europe.

  49. Added a link to the Bluetongue declaration. You must fill in the declaration when transiting through a bluetongue restricted territory.

  50. Updated the current situation section and removed out of date content.

  51. Added the details of how to spot bluetongue in calves.

  52. Page updated following a review of content.

  53. Updated the current situation and added the section on importing animals from bluetongue affected countries.

  54. Contact details for reporting a notifiable disease updated.

  55. Updated the current situation to take account of situation in France.

  56. Added a link to photos of clinical signs of bluetongue disease.

  57. Updated link to the latest qualitative risk assessment for bluetongue virus (BTV-8) entry into the UK.

  58. Update on details for movements during an outbreak

  59. Updated following bluetongue virus (BTV-8) risk assessment of entry into the UK in 2016.

  60. AHVLA documents have been re-assigned to the new Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).

  61. AHVLA documents have been re-assigned to the new Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).

  62. First published.