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Minister Coughlan responds to detection of blue tongue in Suffolk

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Mary Coughlan TD, today described confirmation of the detection of the presence of bluetongue in a cow on a farm near Ipswich in Suffolk as 'a serious development.'

The Minister said that the following the spread of the virus across northern Europe over the past year, there was always an increased likelihood that it would spread further. Ms Coughlan noted that, according to the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in London, the disease had been detected in a single animal and that further investigations are being carried out to establish whether the disease is circulating, before it is declared to be a confirmed outbreak.

Minister Coughlan pointed out that Irish ports and airports are currently closed to livestock being imported from Britain and that only three consignments of livestock had been imported from Britain in the past seven weeks and all had been traced. In addition, imports of livestock from affected parts of northern Europe are also prohibited.

The Minister also said that she had taken a very proactive approach to the increased threat posed by the spread of the disease across northern Europe last year by engaging the Department of Zoology at NUI Galway to assist in carrying out a comprehensive surveillance survey of the midges that potentially spread the virus. Ms Coughlan also confirmed that her Department had updated its contingency plans and legislative basis and has provided advice leaflets to farmers and the veterinary profession as well as having organised an industry seminar on bluetongue in July. The Minister also pointed to the comprehensive information available on her Department's bluetongue website -www.bluetongue.ie

The Minister also emphasised that Bluetongue does not affect or infect humans and, consequently, the disease has no public health significance. Furthermore the virus cannot be acquired from food.

Minister Coughlan also confirmed that her Department had been in contact with DEFRA, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) in Northern Ireland and the European Commission and would be maintaining these close contacts, particularly with DARD given both Departments' determination to keep the island of Ireland free of the disease.

Finally, Ms Coughlan reminded farmers that bluetongue is a notifiable disease and any suspicions of the disease must be reported to the Department. Farmers should, therefore, be vigilant about this and other animal diseases and familiarise themselves with the clinical signs of bluetongue. In the event of suspicion, the animals must not be moved from the premises until blood sample results have ruled out the disease.

23 September 2007

NOTE FOR EDITORS

Bluetongue, which has to date never been recorded in Ireland, is an infectious, non-contagious, insect-borne virus disease of ruminants of variable clinical severity. All ruminants, including sheep, goats and cattle, are susceptible to infection. While sheep are clinically the most severely affected, cattle, in which the infection is normally sub-clinical, are the main amplifying and maintenance hosts.

The virus is only transmitted by biting midges (Culicoides species) and it cannot be naturally transmitted directly between animals. Those midges that spread infection are active between April and October in Ireland and are commonly found around farms. Bluetongue cannot be naturally be transmitted directly between animals.

Bluetongue does not affect humans and, consequently, this disease has no public health significance - the main effect is that the virus causes severe and sometimes fatal disease (including a blue tongue, caused by bleeding) in sheep and goats and, although cattle are reservoirs, they usually do not get sick.

Clinical signs of the disease in sheep may include swelling of the head and neck; inflammation and ulceration of the mucous membrane of the mouth, nose and eyelids; lameness; muscle degeneration and leaking of blood or serum from blood vessels into the surrounding tissues; haemorrhages in the skin and other tissues; respiratory signs such as froth in the lungs and an inability to swallow; and a high mortality rate.

In cattle, the clinical signs include nasal discharge, swelling and ulceration of the mouth and swollen teats.

Date Released: 23 September 2007