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Feature: Bleating Bluetongue
Most UK farmers had never heard of Bluetongue before 2007. But, following the arrival of the virus in East Anglia in August of that year, they were thirsty for knowledge.
In collaboration with the National Farmers’ Union, Dr Chris Oura, Head of the EU Community Reference Laboratory for Bluetongue at the Institute for Animal Health (IAH), and colleagues talked to farmers and vets at a large number of meetings around the country – in some it was standing room only. As well as giving background information on the virus and disease, they put across a very strong message that vaccination was the only tool that could be used to control the disease.
Spreading the word
“It was absolutely clear to the team at IAH that our livestock sector was at severe risk from repeated outbreaks of the disease,” says Oura. “We felt that we needed to get the vaccination message out to farmers loud and clear”.
As well as directly advising the farming community, IAH research also informed UK Government policy on the roll-out of Bluetongue vaccine as it became available.
Their advice was clearly taken on board as there was a very high take-up of vaccine in 2008 – up to 90% – in the most at risk areas. In fact, the UK was the only country in Northern Europe to have had disease in 2007 but no outbreaks in 2008.
IAH scientists, in collaboration with Laboratoire Service International, have launched a novel molecular test for the identification of Bluetongue viruses (BTV). The ‘TaqVet BTV European Typing Kit’ allows detection of BTV-1, 2, 6, 8, 9, 11 and -16 in a matter of hours – fulfilling a growing demand for fast and reliable laboratory tests that differentiate between the multiple serotypes of the virus now present in Europe.
Despite the successful vaccine campaign against BTV-8 in 2008, UK farmers must continue to vaccinate in order to eradicate Bluetongue from Northern Europe – this could take up to five years.
“We must maintain momentum,” warns Oura. “Both BTV-1 and BTV-8 are circulating in northern France in 2009 so we are not out of the woods yet, and we need to be prepared for outbreaks with other serotypes”.
In collaboration with Dr James Wood from the University of Cambridge, and Norfolk sheep farmer Carroll Barber – one of the majority of East Anglian farmers who vaccinated their stock in 2008 – Dr Oura’s team has demonstrated that maternal antibodies, from ewes vaccinated for a second time one month prior to lambing, can protect lambs for at least 13-14 weeks.
Dr Simon Carpenter, Head of the Entomology and Modelling Group at IAH Pirbright, has been awarded the first annual Rooker Prize for his research on the biting midges that spread Bluetongue virus.
“As an entomologist, it is a rare honour to receive such an award, and is a reflection of the multidisciplinary nature of science being used within IAH to combat incursions of this disease,” Carpenter explains.
Dr Carpenter and colleagues used field data to establish ‘vector-free’ and ‘transmission free periods’ for Bluetongue virus during the winter of 2007/8. This facilitated a relaxation of animal movements and saved UK farming millions of pounds in trade.
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