Dr Mikheil Sokhadze, chief veterinary officer and deputy head of the Ministry of Agriculture’s National Food Agency in Georgia, confirmed the outbreak of the insect-borne, viral disease on Monday 26 January.
All of the cases were discovered on the outskirts of Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, and have since been confirmed in laboratory tests by state-appointed veterinary officials.
In total, 2,190 head of sheep are believed to be at risk of the virus. Georgia’s Ministry of Agriculture has confirmed 68 animals have been infected, with 35 euthanised so far.
Sheep and goat accounts for 23% of Georgia’s livestock export vertical and is estimated to be worth around GEL34.8m ($13.9m), according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC).
Georgia, which straddles Europe and Asia, exports the majority of its sheep meat to its comparatively richer neighbour Azerbaijan, which imports around 86% of Georgia’s sheep.
Jordan is another significant importer of Georgian sheep, accounting for 13% of trade in the sector, according a 2013 study by the OEC.
Georgia’s Ministry of Agriculture was unavailable to comment on the impact the outbreak would have on trade.
What is Bluetongue?
Bluetongue (or BTV) is a non-contagious, viral disease that impacts ruminants – mammals, especially sheep, that acquire nutrients from plant-based foods by fermenting it in a special part of the stomach before it is digested. BTV has an especially high mortality rate for sheep, and less so with cattle, deer and goats. The swelling of the lips and tongue gives the tongue a bluish appearance - hence the name of the disease.