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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 August 2006, 15:12 GMT 16:12 UK
Sheep virus 'low risk to the UK'
About 70% of an infected flock dies from the disease
A deadly sheep disease which has spread to the Netherlands will probably not reach the UK, Britain's chief vet says.

Debbie Reynolds said there was an "increased likelihood" of the bluetongue virus spreading, but the overall risk to the UK was low.

The Dutch government confirmed that a farm had tested positive for the virus - northern Europe's first case.

The viral infection, carried by midges, can affect goats, deer and cattle, but does not pose a risk to human health.

Once infected, up to 70% of an infected flock of sheep die from the virus.

Animals with the disease contract a fever that may last for several days, have mucous lining their mouth, nose and eyes, and suffer from excessive salivation and frothing.

The insect-borne virus is normally found in Mediterranean regions.

Dr Reynolds told the BBC that the Dutch case was a "significant development".

"This is much further north than ever before and there is an increased likelihood of the sheep disease being introduced by midges," she said.

"But we think the risk is low overall."

Climate effects

The species of midges known to spread the virus is normally found in warmer parts of Europe.

Peter King, chief livestock adviser at the National Farmers Union, said the UK's climate was probably too cold for the midges.

"The midge is believed unlikely to actually establish itself in the UK because of the climatic conditions, because we're so cold.

"But there is the potential for other midge to actually carry the disease."

Some scientists believe that climate change could be behind the northward spread of the virus. The warming temperatures have seen the midges gradually move into higher latitudes.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said on Friday that officials were monitoring developments in the Netherlands.

A department spokesman said they would issue advice to farmers if it was necessary, but no action was currently needed.

The spokesman added that consumers should not be alarmed because the bluetongue virus posed no risk to human health.

Bluetongue virus hits Dutch farm
18 Aug 06 |  Science/Nature
Britain ready for sheep killer
09 Sep 03 |  Science/Nature

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