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The Veterinary Record, February 16, 2008 Letters

Coordinating the approach to bluetongue

Sir, The arrival of bluetongue virus (BTV) on these shores presents a new disease challenge to veterinary surgeons and their clients.

The profession is naturally keen to learn what is being planned; with that in mind, i am pleased to present the current state of play.

Government has engaged with various stakeholder groups in order to develop the necessary strategy to deal with this disease. Veterinary colleagues are involved in every area. A plan is close to completion, at which point it must be presented to the European Commission for agreement.

it is likely, for a whole host of reasons, that the vaccination strategy will be on a voluntary basis, although discussions with regard to any financial assistance available from the European Veterinary Fund continue.

Government is to be commended for underwriting an order of 225 million doses of BTV serotype 8 vaccine; the challenge facing the stakeholder groups is how best to advise on its usage, and there are several issues to be addressed. Under EU rules, vaccine may only be administered in a BTV protection zone and not in the surveillance zone. DEFrA has the authority to modify zones as it thinks appropriate. Vaccine will be delivered as it is manufactured and released.

An adequate level of uptake is required to achieve significant (national) herd immunity if the vaccination strategy is going to be successful. Vaccine must be administered swiftly, such that levels of immunity precede the further spread of the virus when the midge population becomes active and temperatures are sufficiently high for virus transmission to occur.

The role of the veterinary profession in addressing this disease challenge is significant.

The vaccine will be licensed as a POM-V, to be administered to animals under the care of a veterinary surgeon. it is likely that our clients will be permitted to vaccinate their own animals, although arrangements with regard to movement between zones or states (or devolved national boundaries) may require veterinary certification.

The profession has the opportunity to demonstrate yet again the value of a viable livestock veterinary sector to the nation. We must persuade our clients of the necessity of mass vaccination and our target must be 100 per cent including all hobby farmers and keepers of more exotic susceptible species. The local veterinary practice is likely to be the first point of inquiry and has the opportunity to influence the uptake of vaccine and the likely success of the campaign; other industry stakeholders will also be working to spread the necessary messages.

The pattern of disease that has been witnessed in northern Europe leaves us in no doubt as to the gravity of the situation.

Anecdotally, it appears that the lamb crop in areas of northern Europe may well be down by 30 per cent. Cattle production has been similarly adversely affected. Our fragile farming industry cannot afford this. We are in a slightly better position in the UK since we do have the opportunity to prevent or at least ameliorate the development of the so-called phase 2, where the amount of virus circulating in the midge population is sufficiently high to cause high morbidity and mortality.

It is the aim of the BVA to keep its members apprised of developments via The Veterinary Record and also the BVA website, which members may wish to check for developments and further guidance from the BVA Bluetongue Group. Please ensure that the BVA has your current email address in order to receive notification of developments, and sign up to BVA e-news on www.bva.co.uk

Nick Blayney, President, BVA, 7 Mansfield Street, London W1G 9NQ