Bluetongue outbreak confirmed

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The Independent Online

Bluetongue virus is now circulating in the UK, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed today.

A fifth case of the disease was confirmed in a cow near Burstall in Suffolk yesterday, close to the rare breeds farm in Baylham, near Ipswich, where the disease was first confirmed on September 21.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced measures today to combat the virus.

Deputy chief veterinary officer Fred Landeg said: "We can now confirm that we do have bluetongue virus circulating in this country.

"Although this disease is not welcome to the farming community, it is important to emphasise this is a very different disease to foot and mouth."

The deputy chief vet said: "We are early on in the outbreak and our objective is to try and contain the disease to that part of the country where we have these concerned cases."

Five cases have already been confirmed in Suffolk in the past week.

A 12.5-mile control zone and a 93-mile protection zone have been set up around the concerned bluetongue cases, with restrictions preventing animals being moved out of those areas.

Dr Landeg said it was too early to say if the disease, which has killed thousands of animals in Northern Europe, was now endemic in the UK.

He said there was a chance that a long, cold winter could stamp out the disease but, based on the experience on the Continent where the disease re-emerged this year, it was likely it could come back.

There is currently no vaccination for this strain of the virus, although one is being developed, and culling of animals is not an effective way of controlling the disease, he said.

He stressed: "There are no human health implications from this disease - this disease does not pose any risk to any human health from meat or milk products."

He said there would be no compensation for farmers because animals were not culled but acknowledged movement controls and the deaths of some infected animals could cost the farming industry tens of millions of pounds.