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Pirbright helps demonstrate the UK remains free from bluetongue virus

News from: The Pirbright Institute

Scientists at The Pirbright Institute have played a key role in providing assurance that the UK remains free from bluetongue following the positive test results of four cattle which had moved from France into the north of England and Scotland in October 2017 without sufficient vaccination proof.

BTV causes a disease in farmed animals such as sheep, goats and cattle and the disease and related movement restrictions can have a major impact on livestock production. Areas of northern Europe, including France, have been affected by BTV since 2006. While the UK remains free of BTV, accurate surveillance carried out on live animal consignments moving from neighbouring countries affected by BTV transmission is vital. In the UK this is carried out by the European Reference Laboratory for BTV based at Pirbright, which identified the infected cattle shipped from France in October 2017.

Immediately these cases of BTV were confirmed, Pirbright’s experts in the transmission and spread of the virus worked closely with partners at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), Scottish Government and Defra to advise when and where secondary surveillance should be carried out to detect possible onwards transmission.

To estimate the timing of onwards transmission, scientists looked at several factors that can influence how BTV is spread, including seasonal changes in the population size of adult female Culicoides biting midges (which spread the virus) and the temperatures at which the virus can replicate. Then, the Reference Laboratory at Pirbright processed hundreds of samples from cattle sent from the f areas which received the animals to demonstrate there was no further transmission.

Dr Carrie Batten, Head of the Non-Vesicular Disease Reference Laboratory at Pirbright, said: "Responding rapidly and with a high degree of certainty guaranteed by validated tests is a key component in reducing the impact of these events. These events highlight the challenges to the UK of living with viruses in neighbouring countries and emphasise that joined up approaches to sharing information are vital".

Dr Simon Carpenter, Head of Entomology at Pirbright, said: "A key aim of the bluetongue team at Pirbright is to work effectively with external partners both within government and across scientific disciplines to reduce the impact of viral diseases. This response, which included members from a range of publicly funded scientific groups is a great example of this aim and had real impact for the agricultural community".

Professor Melanie Welham, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: “The risk of bluetongue virus type 8 and 4 reaching the UK, owing to the possibility of infected midges being carried by the wind from France to the south-east of England, varies from season to season whilst the likelihood of disease entering the UK through the consignment of live animals, which are not fully protected by immunisation, is present all year round. The work carried out by the team at Pirbright is a great example of how biological research plays an important and everyday role in protecting the UK and the importance of our continued support for bioscience and collaboration”.


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