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Bluetongue detected for the first time in Northern Europe

Paris , 23 August 2006 – Dutch, Belgian and German Authorities have officially notified the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) of the occurrence of an outbreak of Bluetongue in sheep on their territory. The notification reports are available on the OIE website (http://www.oie.int/en/fr/).

According to the first report sent by the Dutch on the 18 August, the outbreak affected a farm in the province of Limburg . Bluetongue was confirmed by laboratory investigations. The source of the infection is currently under investigation.

Intensive surveillance activities conducted by Dutch as well as Belgian and German Authorities revealed additional affected farms in proximity to the index case.

Dutch, as well as Belgian and German Authorities have taken classical disease control measures such as zoning and movement control and continuous surveillance within the country. Further screening will be continued to determine the extent of the outbreaks.

Bluetongue is an insect-borne viral disease to which all species of ruminants are susceptible. The disease poses no danger to human health. It was first described in South Africa where it was probably been endemic in wild ruminants from antiquity but has since been recognised in most countries in the tropics and sub-tropics. The global distribution of the disease comprising the endemic areas of bluetongue, has traditionally been accepted to be between the latitudes of approximately 50°N and 35°S. Aside from the endemic areas, since 1999 there have been reports of outbreaks of Bluetongue in Greece , Italy , France ( Corsica ), Spain and Portugal. Cases also occurred in Europe in Albania , Bosnia and Herzegovia , Bulgaria , Cyprus , Croatia , Former Yug. Rep. of Macedonia , Serbia and Montenegro and Turkey (see OIE website).

Bluetongue occurs mostly during periods of high temperature and rainfall and usually disappears with the first frost or severe cold weather.

The first occurrence of the disease in the Netherlands signifies the most northern locality where the disease has ever been diagnosed.

Emerging Diseases

An emerging disease is defined as a new infection resulting from the evolution or change of an existing pathogen or parasite resulting in a change of host range, vector, pathogenicity or strain. Occurring for the first time in the Northern part of the European hemisphere, Bluetongue may be considered as an emerging disease in this area.

Globalisation, the change in weather patterns and the increase in speed and volume of international transport as well as passengers travel are known factors that could favour the spread of pathogens and the emergence of disease.

The rapid detection and response as well as the excellent collaboration demonstrated by the veterinary Authorities in the Netherlands , Germany and Belgian during this emerging disease has been crucial for the containment of spread and for all disease control measures to be developed.

Although the source of infection of this outbreak is still under investigation, the OIE highlights the importance of having effective Veterinary Services. The ability to early detect and respond rapidly to an unexpected event such as this is dependent on the effectiveness of a national surveillance system and the transparency in reporting. Veterinary Services are guarantors of animal health and, by association with zoonotic diseases, of public health.

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