Continued vigilance and joint working are our best defence against Bluetongue

Posted on June 17, 2019 by John Fishwick

Last year we were unfortunate to see three consignments of livestock imported into the UK which were found to be positive for Bluetongue virus (BTV-8) and it was only through the swift and very effective action taken by government vets that these diseases were rapidly detected, and spread was prevented.

We would like to remind colleagues working with ruminants that they should encourage all their clients to take proper advice to control disease risks if they are considering importing any livestock to the UK. Even animal moves that have been arranged legally may pose a risk unless carefully considered and managed. BTV-4 and 8 continue to circulate widely across mainland France. Both strains could also spread into the UK if infected midges are carried by the wind to the south and south-east of England. Midge activity is at its highest between April and November so we are now in the vector season.

Protecting the flock

Keepers can protect their flocks/herds by ensuring imported animals have the correct paperwork and confirming vaccination against BTV-4 and BTV-8. Keepers should also consider requesting a pre-export test to ensure the health status of imported animals.

It should be noted that anyone planning to import cattle or sheep from countries where bluetongue virus is known to be circulating should be aware that the imported animals’ movements will be restricted until they have been tested for infection with the bluetongue virus. Any animals which are infected will be culled. Any animals which travelled in the same vehicle and are at risk of becoming infected may also be culled. No compensation will be paid for the culled animals. In addition, all other animals on the premises that are at risk of becoming infected will be placed under movement restrictions until it is confirmed  that the disease has not spread. These restrictions may last several weeks. 


Vaccination is the best way for keepers to protect their livestock from being infected. Although vaccine is not currently being produced for the UK market, vets can apply to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate for a Special Import Certificate. This will allow them to import bluetongue vaccine from Europe. Defra provide lots of information on bluetongue, the latest outbreak situation and how to recognise it. The also offer guidance on importing live animals, including topical issues such as the presence of disease in Europe. Keepers can also find tailored information on BTV on the Joint Action against Bluetongue (JAB) website.

Livestock keepers and their veterinary surgeons would be well advised to speak to their local APHA office in England and Wales, Divisional Veterinary Office in Northern Ireland and local Field Services Office in Scotland before contemplating any animal imports.


If keepers or vets suspect Bluetongue in an animal, they should contact APHA immediately: 

John Fishwick

Written by John Fishwick

BVA President from September 2017 to September 2018

John is senior lecturer in Dairy Herd Medicine and former head of the Department of Production and Population Health at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC). He is a former President of the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA). Prior to this he worked in mixed practice and he was once head veterinarian to the world’s largest fully integrated dairy company, farming over 25,000 high producing dairy cows in Saudi Arabia.