France extends bluetongue virus restriction zone

By Oscar Rousseau

- Last updated on GMT

Defra: There's an 80% chance the midge-borne disease bluetongue will spread to the UK
Defra: There's an 80% chance the midge-borne disease bluetongue will spread to the UK

Related tags France Beef Lamb Livestock

France has increased restriction zones across large swathes of territory as the country struggles to contain the midge-borne disease bluetongue, which has swept through its beef and sheep livestock.

Since the start of the year, France has reported a total of 224 outbreaks of the bluetongue virus (BTV-8) across a range of regions in the south, west and east of the country, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

As a result of the restriction, zones in the south of the country, close to the Spanish border, and zones toward the west have been enlarged to protect the safe trade and transportation of livestock and meat.

This came after the UK government today (1 April 2016) published its outbreak assessment report for the bluetongue virus in France. It was put together by the government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency, a sub-group under the UK’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

How can bluetongue travel from France?

According to Defra, the three most likely ways that bluetongue in France could affect livestock in others countries are:

• An infectious vector reaching the UK and thus infecting an animal
• Entry via an animal import
• Use of infected germplasm

At-risk regions identified

The report noted that there are 13 confirmed regions in France where cases of bluetongue are present. These are: Allier, Ariège, Charente-Maritime, Cher, Creuse, Dordogne, Gironde, Indre, Lot, Nièvre, Puy de Dôme, Rhone, Vienne and Haute-Vienne.

During the winter, the French risk assessment agency ANSES carried out a surveillance of the geographic distribution of bluetongue and, through this, identified new regions where cattle had tested positive for bluetongue.

This has led Defra to claim there is an 80% chance that bluetongue could spread to the UK. Other countries at risk are France’s geographic neighbours Spain, Switzerland and Italy, although Germany is not thought to be at risk.

Virus ‘difficult to predict’

We have robust disease surveillance procedures in place and are working closely with the livestock industry to carefully monitor the situation in France where bluetongue disease control measures are in place,​” said a Defra spokesman.

The risk of incursion from infected midges is difficult to predict at this stage because it is highly dependent on the level of disease on the continent, the proximity to the UK and the weather.

Animal keepers should remain vigilant for any signs of disease and report any suspicions to their vet and the Animal and Plant Health Agency immediately. Livestock keepers should also consider with their vet if vaccination is an option which would benefit their business.​”

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