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Last Updated: Monday, 11 June 2007, 02:40 GMT 03:40 UK
UK faces renewed sheep virus risk
Sheep
About 70% of an infected flock can die from the disease
A deadly sheep disease which has hit farms on mainland Europe is very likely to reach the UK, experts have warned.

The insect-borne bluetongue virus has re-emerged in Germany, according to the UK's Institute for Animal Health.

The midges carrying the virus survived a mild winter, increasing the chance of it hitting the UK, the institute says.

The viral infection can affect goats, deer and cattle, but does not pose a risk to human health. An outbreak would damage the beef and lamb industries.

Once infected, up to 70% of a flock of sheep can 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.

'Increased likelihood'

The environment department, Defra, says there have been more than 2,000 cases of the virus, known as BTV-8, in the EU since mid-2006.

According to Defra's website, the German authorities confirmed a single case of the virus on 30 April this year.

Defra said: "The current developments still present a low but increased likelihood of the introduction of BTV-8 virus to the UK from the currently affected areas."

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

But last year it broke out in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium - eventually reaching the coast there.

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.


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

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