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Bluetongue disease update

18 February, 2008

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has provided a further update on bluetongue disease.

The update follows confirmation on Friday that tests detected bluetongue disease in a cow on a farm in North Antrim. This cow was part of a group of cattle imported from the continent of Europe. This cow was culled on a precautionary basis last Thursday. On Friday the calf of this cow was also culled due to the risks of virus transmission before birth.

Sinn Féin Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle Gildernew MP MLA, provided an update this morning.

The Minister said:

"Over the weekend DARD staff, vets and AFBI scientists have worked hard to establish if further action is necessary in order to contain this disease.

"Consequently I have taken the decision to carry out a cull of 23 cows and their calves as a precaution. I am focused on ensuring that the disease is contained through quick, decisive action. The affected farm will remain under restriction and surveillance until we are satisfied that there is no further risk of infection from that herd. DARD officials have spoken to the farmer concerned.

"I am keeping DEFRA and Mary Coughlan TD, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in the South of Ireland, informed and I'm liaising with other key stakeholders."

The cull is being carried out as the latest blood tests on this herd have detected the presence of antibody or virus in another 4 calves born to this group of cattle. The cull will be completed today.

This result does not mean that the disease is circulating here, and at present the North retains its bluetongue free disease status.

The Minister concluded:

"On Friday the Ulster Farmers Union called for a voluntary ban in relation to the import of animals from bluetongue-affected areas. I welcome this move and would plead again with farmers - do not import. This experience demonstrates that it is quite simply too risky."

Tomorrow DARD will start to run a series of advertisements reminding farmers to be vigilant and to remind them of the precautions they should take in relation to bluetongue disease.

The Minister also stated that the First Minister, Deputy First Minister and Chairman of the Agriculture & Rural Development Committee have already been contacted and that she is planning to make a statement to the Assembly tomorrow to update MLAs on these latest developments.

Notes to Editors

This is the first time bluetongue has been detected in the North of Ireland. DARD officials are working to minimise the risk of disease spreading. An outbreak is only confirmed when a country finds that the infection is circulating. Therefore at this time the North of Ireland remains officially bluetongue free.

An epidemiological investigation has begun and will continue on the premises for the next few days.

The bluetongue leaflet and a Question and Answer guide is available on the DARD website at:

Bluetongue is an insect-borne viral disease to which all species of ruminants are susceptible, although sheep are most severely affected. However, cattle are the main mammalian reservoir of the virus and are very important in the epidemiology of the disease. It is characterised by changes to the mucous linings of the mouth and nose and the coronary band of the foot. bluetongue is declared to be present in a country when it is confirmed by laboratory tests that the Bluetongue virus (BTV) is circulating in the animal population.

Anyone who knows or suspects that any animal or carcase in his possession, under his charge or being examined or inspected by him is infected with Bluetongue is required under the bluetongue Order (NI) 2003 to notify the Divisional Veterinary Office.

Commission Regulation (EC) No 1266/2007 lays down the specific measures for control of bluetongue.

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