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A CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER
In the not too distant past pestilential diseases have decimated the UK farming industry to a point that in many areas of the UK it has brought about a change in the landscape of what was once a green and pleasant land.
Foot and Mouth disease, Swine Vesicular Disease [SVD], Bovine Spongiform encephalopathy [BSE] or “Mad Cow Disease” and more recently the highly infectious
incidence of the importation of the deadly H5-n1 virus [Bird Flu] at a poultry farm in Suffolk. The ensuing fears surrounding such outbreaks has brought about the wholesale slaughter of livestock on a scale that has decimated farming communities countrywide. The current “Harridan” stalking the farming industry is Bovine Tuberculosis a disease said to be directly related to the high population of Badgers on dairy farming land but it is of interest that in the UK the badger is a protected species whereas in Southern Ireland it is not yet in Ireland the incidence of TB is far higher than the UK despite the fact that the badger there is trapped and killed to a point where it is facing extinction in some counties. In the USA they have had the TB problem for many years and were claiming that it is now under control but recently there was a resurgence in the far west which was one of the first places they claimed was now TB free. The concern in all epidemics of disease in domestic animals is that whatever the animal is suffering is often transmittable to the human population in the form of some similar, related but different virus/condition that cannot be controlled because it has crossed the species barrier and mutated to an unknown form of attack.
Though some epidemics were contained and controlled some were not and where they were not many farmers having watched their life’s work being destroyed decided to diversify into other fields which was not commensurate with their activities prior to the diseases which came to their farms. In some areas where fields once held herds of cows or flocks of sheep they are now a sea of yellow oil seed rape, a cash crop that could ensure the survival of a battered industry.
The fine line between agricultural solvency and bankruptcy could be about to suffer yet another deviation if the current outbreak of “Blue tongue” that is currently stalking parts of Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, West Germany and Northern France crosses the barrier of the North Sea to the UK. Blue tongue however is not contagious like Foot and Mouth disease at least it is not a virulent virus that can sweep through a herd of beasts in a few days. A midge a tiny insect that carries the virus and bites the host leaving the virus in the blood transmits it; the animal then succumbs to the symptoms.
In domestic/farmed flocks and herds the symptoms are noticed and dealt with but in wild herds the virus could well take a toll that might pass unnoticed for some time.Favourite target of this midge are ruminants, domestically sheep, cows and goats but in the wild in the UK deer. Camels, llamas, giraffes, bison, buffalo, wildebeest and antelope are also susceptible but they are only found in zoos and wildlife parks here. Any grazing animal could take a bite from this midge and fall prey to Blue Tongue.Humans are not susecptible.
The current resurgence of Blue tongue virus began in the spring of 2006 in Europe in many places that had been free of it for many years but the virus now sweeping continental Europe is one that has never affected Europe before and is identified as BTV 8. Though the disease is not contagious the restrictions associated with its management are similar to those imposed when dealing with contagious diseases.
In continental Europe a 150Km exclusion zone surrounds each outbreak where no animal can be moved, exports are banned. In the UK the restrictions are more varied but nevertheless restrictive.
In the UK slaughter of infected beasts is not a binding requirement but it is an option in severe cases but the viability of an animal if it should survive the virus is severely diminished and in many cases the case for allowing a beast to live can be outweighed by its diminishing return which could result in its slaughter by its owner. The loss however because it is not a legal requirement would not attract compensation from the Ministry and would most probably not be covered by insurance.
The culprit spreading the Blue tongue virus is an insect called biting midges of the genus Culicoides. They can breed on manure heaps cleared from cow sheds and sheep pens following their winter confinement and left outside uncontrolled. Last year was one of the hottest on record and the rise of the virus may be directly related to the change in climate, the peak of the breeding cycle of the genus Culicoides occurs in late summer toward the end of August in the UK which is also the time that most farmers are thinking about bringing herds indoors for the coming winter and confining them in sheds. In the winter months many herds are kept in highly concentrated populations because the pasture out in the fields is not as productive as it was in the summer. If the beasts are carrying the midge then such close proximity could allow several beasts in a herd to be bitten by the same colony of midges.
The symptoms vary from species to species and except in rare cases almost never result in a charachteristic “Blue Tongue”. In sheep there will be eye and naisal discharge,high body tempreature,swelling around the mouth/head/neck,lameness, haemorages,breathing difficulty and drooling. The mortality rate in sheep is often 70-80%.
In cattle the condition is more difficlt to manage and can only be deffinitely established by laborotory tests but the symptoms are similar and include naisal discharge,conjuctivitus,swelling of the head and neck,ulceration of the mouth,drooling, swollen teats and tiredness. The condition in cattle cannot be determined clinically.
Blue Tongue has never been recorded in the UK mainland but it does exist in Northern Ireland as it does in Northern France and Europe more widely. It is possible that it may never come to Britain but we have not had a chanel tunnel before nor have we had weather conditions that would aid the Culicoides midges before.The UK sits between two known sources of the Blue Tongue Virus it is unlikely to leap the twenty-two miles from Northern Ireland but the twenty one miles from Northern France may be easier. The changing climate of the past ten years has brought to mind many considerations that were unlikely to affect the UK in the past. As the average tempreatures continue to rise the “Collateral” damage of the abnormal population explosions of insects has the potential to change the English countryside beyond recognition. It is a “Clear and almost present danger”
|Posted: May 16, 2007 , Modified: May 16, 2007|
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