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Q&A: Bluetongue disease
Symptoms of bluetongue are generally worst in sheep
Bluetongue disease has been found in the UK for the first time, in a cow at a farm near Ipswich, Suffolk.
What is bluetongue disease?
It is a non-contagious virus spread by a species of midge and is most commonly seen in the late summer and autumn.
All ruminants, such as cattle, goats, deer and sheep, are susceptible, although symptoms are generally most severe in sheep.
Signs of the disease in species vary, but key indicators include a high fever, excessive salivation, swelling of the head and neck, lameness and sometimes discolouration of the tongue.
According to the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), in some susceptible breeds of sheep up to 70% of a flock can die from the virus.
Animals that survive the disease can suffer long-term damage, such as a reduction in meat and wool production.
The virus does not affect humans.
How is it spread?
It is passed on by midges. After a midge bites an infected animal, the midge passes the infection on by biting an uninfected animal.
BLUETONGUE IN SHEEP
High body temperature
Swelling of the mouth, head and neck
First UK bluetongue case
Bluetongue cannot be transmitted directly between animals.
However, Defra says it cannot rule out transmission of the virus between livestock by unhygienic practices, such as using contaminated surgical equipment or hypodermic needles.
How far can the midges travel?
Defra says initial studies have found that a midge can travel approximately 1.5km (1 mile) to 2km (1.2 miles) day.
However, in certain weather, midges can be carried much further, especially over water masses - up to 200km (124 miles).
Such distances vary according to local environmental, topographical and meteorological conditions, Defra says.
Will infected animals be culled?
Because bluetongue is spread by insects, Defra says compulsory slaughter of infected livestock would not normally be carried out.
However, the infected cow in Suffolk is being killed and tests conducted to determine whether bluetongue has spread to other animals.
It will not be classed as an outbreak unless other cases are confirmed, Defra says.
Where has the disease been found?
Bluetongue was first discovered in South Africa but has since been found in most countries in the tropics and sub-tropics.
BLUETONGUE IN CATTLE
Swelling of the head and neck
Swelling of the mouth
Since August 2006, the virus has been found in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and northern France.
There have also been outbreaks of different strains of the disease in Greece, Italy, Corsica and the Balearic Islands since 1998.
Cases have also occurred in Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia and Yugoslavia.
This is the first case of the disease in the UK.
What restrictions will be placed on British farmers?
A ban on movement of susceptible animals on and off affected premises and surrounding areas can be imposed by Defra.
Officials also say the export of species susceptible to the virus out of the affected area could be restricted after an outbreak is confirmed.
Can livestock be vaccinated against bluetongue?
There are no bluetongue vaccines suitable against the outbreak of bluetongue in northern Europe, according to Defra.