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Bluetongue detected for the first time in northern Europe

14 August 2006 90 years of expertise

14 August 2006: The Dutch, Belgian and German Authorities notify the OIE of the occurrence of an outbreak of bluetongue on their territory.

The emergence of bluetongue is unexpected in this region and, in less than two years, the virus is spreading through northern Europe. Unusually, the virus strain involved in this serious epizootic (BTV-8) affects cattle as well as sheep.

The infection is normally inapparent in cattle but in this case it is particularly virulent and causes severe clinical disease in this species.
For a reminder

Bluetongue (BT): a disease with a strong socio-economic impact

Bluetongue is a viral disease that affects a wide range of domestic and wild ruminants: primarily sheep but also cattle, goats, buffalo, antelope, deer, elk and camels. It is a vector-borne infection transmitted by midges of the genus Culicoides.

The disease is not contagious but morbidity and mortality can be very high, especially in sheep. There are numerous viral strains and they do not confer cross protection.

While the disease presents no risk to public health, it can cause heavy economic losses and severely disrupt international trade in animals and animal products.

For more information: Disease card on bluetongue

Bluetongue is one of the diseases listed in the OIE Terrestrial Code (Chapter 8.3.) and Member Countries are required to report it to the OIE.

An emerging disease in Northern Europe in 2006

The first detection of bluetongue in Northern Europe was on 14 August 2006. Up to then, its geographical distribution was traditionally been confined to tropical and sub-tropical zones. In fact the disease principally occurs in regions with high temperatures and rainfall, where the climate allows biting midges to survive the winter. As a rule, the geographical distribution of the vectors limits the distribution of the disease, which normally subsides with the first frosts or severe cold weather.

Generally, sheep found in areas where the disease is endemic are naturally resistant to the disease. Outbreaks occur when susceptible sheep, particularly European breeds are introduced to endemic areas, or when the virus is introduced to a region by windborne movement of infected Culicoides.

Apart from the normally endemic zones outside Europe, several notifications of bluetongue were received, from 1999 onwards, relating to outbreaks observed in Greece, Italy, France (Corsica), Spain and Portugal.

The first outbreak of the disease in the Netherlands in 2006 constitutes the most northerly occurrence of the disease ever diagnosed. Occurring for the first time in the northern half of Europe, with changed characteristics, BT can be considered an emerging disease in this area.

Bluetongue in Northern Europe (French)

Effective control of the 2006 bluetongue epizootic

Key factors to successfully control an epizootic of this kind include:

  • The speed of detection and response to the disease, which crucially depend on the capacities of a country’s Veterinary Services.
  • The dissemination of animal disease information, so that neighbouring countries can take steps to protect themselves from emerging diseases. The WAHIS system, through its early warning and surveillance system for animal diseases,enables animal disease data to be processed in real time to keep the international community informed.

The rapid detection and response and excellent collaboration shown by the Veterinary Authorities of the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France and the other countries involved when BT occurred in Northern Europe were crucial for limiting the spread of the disease in 2006.

To control the disease and detect all the outbreaks, the authorities of the infected countries implemented the classic screening and control measures for BT, including zoning and movement control, control of insect vectors, vaccination, as well as continuous surveillance throughout their respective territories.

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