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28 September 2007 - Minister Coughlan Responds To Confirmation Of Bluetongue Outbreak In England

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Mary Coughlan TD, today responded to confirmation, by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Development in the UK, of an outbreak of Bluetongue in Britain after five positive test results had been recorded on four separate premises in Suffolk since last Saturday. The declaration of an official outbreak confirms that the virus is now circulating between the local livestock population and the midges that transmit the virus.

This confirmed outbreak in Britain follows the rapid spread of the disease across northern Europe, with over 6,400 cases having been recorded in Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands this year.

Minister Coughlan said that today's development changed little as far as Ireland was concerned since there has been a ban in place on the importation of live animals from Britain since the first case of the second cluster of foot-and-mouth disease was confirmed on 12th September. However, she said that the situation in Britain would have to be monitored very closely, with further confirmed cases virtually inevitable in the short-term. Ms Coughlan said that she and her officials would continue, as they had done in response to other threatened disease outbreaks, to work particularly closely with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland.

The Minister confirmed also that live animals from non-Bluetongue affected areas in Continental Europe are all subject to post-import tests and that all 1,384 blood tests sampled from such imported animals between August 2006 and September 2007, have been negative for Bluetongue. In addition, the Minister said "my Department initiated a programme of blood testing of domestic cattle in the aftermath of the emergence of the disease in northern Europe in August 2006 and since August 2006, almost 2,400 cattle in over 370 herds have been tested and all were negative for the disease."

The Department has also engaged the Department of Zoology at NUI, Galway to assist in carrying out a comprehensive survey of the midges that potentially transmit infection. This programme also involves the Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology and Risk Analysis (CVERA), which is based at UCD. Minister Coughlan said that this collaborative approach ensured that her Department had at its disposal the best entomological and epidemiological expertise available.

Ms Coughlan confirmed that her Department had just received the first interim report from NUI, Galway and said that analysis of the data collected was continuing. She said that her Department's Bluetongue Vector Surveillance Steering Group met this morning to review the current situation and to be updated on the vector surveillance programme. Ms Coughlan said that she and her officials would be studying the report and the initial findings.

The Minister repeated her earlier assertion that this is a serious development and said that we are all aware of the potential consequences of an outbreak in Ireland and said that she and her Department would continue to keep the situation under very close review and would work with the various stakeholders to minimise the risk to this country. Finally, Ms Coughlan reminded farmers and veterinary practitioners that Bluetongue is a notifiable disease and that any suspicions of the disease must be reported immediately to her Department.

28 September 2007

Date Released: 28 September 2007