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 Great Britain was in 2007.

Bluetongue is a notifiable disease. That means if you suspect it you must tell the Animal and Plant and Health Agency immediately. Failure to do so is an offence.

Current situation

We believe that there is a high risk of bluetongue type 8 spreading into the UK towards the end of summer 2016, if infected midges are carried by the wind from France to the south east of England. The exact level of risk is difficult to predict because it depends on the level of disease in nearby areas of Europe, as well as the weather. We have published a detailed assessment of the risk and will keep this under review.

How to spot 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.

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.

Defra has issued a general licence for farmers to vaccinate their animals in areas that are outside a restricted zone for bluetongue. Vaccination against the disease is effective and helps to reduce the spread of infection. If you are considering whether to vaccinate your animals, you should consult your vet about the benefits of doing so.

If you report suspicion of bluetongue, APHA vets will investigate.

If bluetongue is confirmed the outbreak will be controlled in line with the contingency plan for exotic notifiable diseases and the bluetongue control strategy.

We would put movement restrictions in place in zones around the affected premises. You can read what happens when a notifiable disease is suspected or confirmed.

We’ve also published a leaflet about clinical signs of bluetongue.

Legislation relating to bluetongue

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.