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Bleating bluetongue

  • Bluetongue is a devastating viral disease that affects sheep and cattle
  • It is spread by biting Culicoides midges
  • The disease was first found in southern Africa, but over recent years, it has spread into northern Europe
  • The first case of bluetongue in the UK was in 2007
  • The disease has become a major problem in Belgium, France and Germany, but the UK has managed to successfully control outbreaks so far thanks to a combination of vaccination and data from pre-emptive modelling

Bioscience is beating bluetongue

Scientists at the Institute for Animal Health are collecting data on midge numbers and their biting behaviour. They combine this with Met Office data to develop complex mathematical models to work out when the midges are most likely to be active and when they are most likely to be giving disease-spreading bites to farm animals. This allows the team to advise farmers about when it is safest to move susceptible animals and to consider moving animals indoors when midge biting activity is predicted to be high. The data is also used to advise farmers of the best times to use insecticides and to when vaccinate at risk animals.

In 2008, the voluntary bluetongue vaccination programme saved an estimated £400M and 10,000 jobs.

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