Q & A Bluetongue
What is Bluetongue?
Bluetongue is a viral disease of sheep, cattle, goats and other ruminants. The disease is non-contagious and transmitted by Culicoides (biting midges). At present, 24 serotypes of the virus are known in different parts of the world. The virulence and mortality rate of the different virus serotypes vary considerably. The disease shows a seasonal pattern following the periods of high and low abundance of the Culicoides species throughout the year. It is mostly seen in late summer and autumn.
Bluetongue is a notifiable disease and suspected cases of the disease must be notified to the veterinary authorities in the Member State.
What are the disease characteristics?
The disease is characterised by inflammation of the mucous membranes, congestion, swelling and haemorrhages but most of the infected animals recover from the disease. Sheep are generally the worst affected species, while cattle and goats do not usually show severe clinical signs of disease although they carry the virus for a certain period of time.
How is the disease transmitted?
The virus is transmitted by a small number of species of biting midges of the genus Culicoides. Culicoides could be considered a competent vector for transmitting bluetongue disease when it has the ability to become infected by, replicate and transmit the virus. For the southern part of Europe, Culicoides imicola has been the main vector for transmitting bluetongue. However, more northern indigenous species of Culicoides are able to transmit the virus as demonstrated by outbreaks of bluetongue in areas far outside the geographical range of C. imicola.
Is Bluetongue a threat to public health or food safety?
Bluetongue does not affect humans, nor is there any risk of the disease being contracted or spread through meat or milk.
Where does the disease occur?
Different bluetongue serotypes are found in North- and South America, Africa, south-east Asia and Australia. In the southern parts of Europe, bluetongue serotypes 1, 2, 4, 9 and 16 have caused outbreaks mainly in sheep flocks in the Balearic Islands, Sardinia, Sicily, Corsica and some other parts of Italy, Spain, France and Portugal. In 2006, bluetongue serotype 8 has made its first appearance in a more northern area of the EU, affecting the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and the western part of Germany. In 2007 and 2008, serotype 8 has spread to large parts of Germany and France, and has been detected in the United Kingdom, Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary, and even southern Spain (Malaga).
How to fight bluetongue?
This vector-borne disease is not controlled by depopulating infected or at risk farms. The principal, and possibly the only, effective veterinary measure in response to bluetongue is vaccination accompanied by ancillary measures such as movement restrictions and surveillance. Vaccination using all available vaccines helps to reduce clinical disease and losses; to contain the spread of the disease and to facilitate safe trade in live animals.
What are the EU rules on Bluetongue?
Community rules on the bluetongue are laid down in Council Directive 2000/75/EC and Commission Regulation (EC) No 1266/2007Commission Regulation (EC). Directive 2000/75/EC set out the general provisions for the control and eradication of bluetongue, whereas Regulation (EC) No 1266/2007 establishes more detailed rules on disease control, monitoring, surveillance and restrictions on movements of susceptible animals.
Community financial support to Member States is granted for the surveillance and vaccination programmes. Around 165 MEUR where allocated for the 2008 emergency vaccination plans and for the surveillance programmes. A slightly lower amount is expected to be allocated for 2009.
What are restricted zones?
Restricted zones are defined by Regulation (EC) No 1266/2007 and consist of the protection and the surveillance zones together that are demarcated by the Member States in case of an outbreak of bluetongue in accordance with article 8 of Directive 2000/75/EC. Restricted zones must be established for each bluetongue serotype that is circulating, or for each combination of serotypes that are circulating. These zones often cross the boundaries of the Member States. See map
EU strategy on bluetongue 2009-2010
Since the adoption of Council Directive 2000/75/EC in 2000, the situation of bluetongue in the EU has changed dramatically. In response to new experiences in the Member States and scientific data, Regulation (EC) No 1266/2007 has been adopted in 2007 and has since then been amended several times to provide a more proportionate sustainable and science-based legal framework. The rules concerning bluetongue continue to be based on the three important pillars: surveillance, movement restrictions and vaccination.
The objective for the years 2009 and 2010 is to control bluetongue by containing the disease spread and protecting susceptible animals in order to limit economic losses caused by the disease, not precluding hypothetical eventual disease eradication. The strategy should be reviewed in 2010, when it will be clearer whether eradication is an achievable object or not.