UK finds first Bluetongue disease case in cow

By Sophie Walker

LONDON (Reuters) - A laboratory has found the Bluetongue virus in a cow in eastern England, the agriculture ministry said on Saturday, the first case in Britain and a fresh setback for the country's farming industry.

Britain's livestock farmers have already been hit by the discovery of the more serious foot and mouth disease at several sites in the past two months.

"Laboratory tests have detected the presence of Bluetongue in one cow on a premise near Ipswich, Suffolk," the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said in a statement.

"The premises where Bluetongue has been found is under restrictions. One infected animal will be culled and epidemiological investigations are being carried out to assess the situation."

Bluetongue causes fever and mouth ulcers and in some cases turns an animal's tongue blue. It is transmitted by insects such as midges and can be highly dangerous to sheep and cows, although it does not affect humans.

Bluetongue is mostly found in Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Spain and in North Africa, but has spread more widely this year across five more northerly EU countries -- Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

The detection of the virus came a day after British authorities said they had confirmed another case of foot and mouth disease at a farm in southern England -- the sixth infected premises found since August 3 -- and ordered the slaughter of its cattle.

"It's another kick in the teeth (for the industry)," Ian Jones, virologist at Reading University, told Sky News.


A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he had been told of the case and had spoken with Environment Secretary Hilary Benn and chief veterinarian Debby Reynolds. "He's keeping informed of developments," she said.

Defra said Bluetongue and the measures to be taken against it were both very different from foot and mouth disease cases.

National Farmers Union president Peter Kendall stressed the disease was not regarded by the farming industry as seriously as foot and mouth.

"It is a real concern and farmers need to be vigilant ... but it's not treated the way foot and mouth is," he told Sky News. "This is nothing like a disease of the nature of foot and mouth and would not require the same sort of response."

Britain culled more than 6 million animals following an outbreak of foot and mouth in 2001 which cost an estimated 8.5 billion pounds ($17.09 billion).

Deputy chief veterinary officer Fred Landeg told Sky News the Bluetongue case was at a children's petting farm.

"We will be looking at farms around this area and on this particular farm, looking for any other evidence of infection and the possibility that midges in the area are transmitting the disease," he said.

Graham Brooks of the British cattle veterinary association told Sky News that Bluetongue "could have a devastating effect on agriculture" if it took hold.