BLUETONGUE was diagnosed in sheep in the Netherlands on August 14, 2006. Subsequent investigations indicated that the disease had been present in Belgium and Germany for several weeks beforehand. Bluetongue is a vector-borne disease that usually clinically manifests only in sheep, but this northern European outbreak also clinically affected cattle. The vector in the outbreak was Culicoides dewulfi, a subspecies of Culicoides obsoletus that is also present in the UK. Other C obsoletus subspecies or Culicoides pulicaris may have been involved, all of which can be found in the UK. Professor Philip Mellor, head of the European Community Reference Laboratory for Bluetongue at the Institute for Animal Health at Pirbright, refers to Culicoides midges as ‘plankton of the air’ as they have the ability to travel great distances in air currents. A concern is that, if bluetongue should re-emerge this summer or at a later date in mainland northern Europe, it may also appear in the UK; particularly high-risk areas are southeast England and East Anglia, although no area should be considered risk free. This article describes the clinical signs of bluetongue, based on those that were seen in the Netherlands last year, with the aim of helping practitioners to recognise and report the disease promptly in the event of a UK outbreak.
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