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.
- 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:
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.
You should discuss the risks of importing stock from BTV affected countries with your vet.
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.
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
- breathing problems
- abortion, foetal deformities and stillbirths
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
Livestock keepers and vets should consider bluetongue as a possible cause and report suspicion to APHA immediately.
Signs of the disease include:
- 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
- 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.
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
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:
- the contingency plan for exotic notifiable diseases
- the bluetongue control strategy
- Bluetongue Regulations 2008
- Bluetongue (Amendment) Regulations 2012 which allows vaccination under licence
- The Exotic Disease (Amendment) (England) Order 2023
- The Bluetongue (Compensation) Order 2007
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.