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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 July 2007, 19:52 GMT 20:52 UK
Millions of midges to be trapped
Culicoides impuntatus - the female midge. Image supplied by Dr Damien Nolan - University of Aberdeen
The virus can be spread by some midge species
Scientists are to collect millions of midges in the hope of stopping the spread of a virus which could wipe out herds of cattle.

Outbreaks of the bluetongue virus, which can also kill flocks of sheep and other ruminants, have been recorded in Germany, France, Belgium and Holland.

The virus is transmitted between animals by some species of midge.

The Scottish Government commissioned a 700,000 research project into the country's midge population.

Scientists believe the virus could be transferred to Scotland by continental midges.

A project with the Met Office is calculating on which days of the year the UK is at highest risk of midges being carried in the wind.

While the immediate risk to Scotland is low it is important that Scottish livestock keepers help minimise the risk through awareness, vigilance and taking care when sourcing their stock
Richard Lochead
Rural Affairs and the Environment

An alternative is that infected animals could come in to the country and infect midges, which could in turn spread the virus.

The research project will be led by Dr Alison Blackwell of the University of Edinburgh-based Advanced Pest Solutions, in partnership with Aberdeen University, the Institute for Animal Health at Pirbright in Surrey and the Scottish Agricultural College.

The results from the project, which is to run over two and a half years, will support contingency planning for any outbreak of bluetongue in Scottish livestock.

Dr Blackwell said: "Bluetongue can wipe out whole herds of animals, and its economic impact can be very damaging.

"We will establish the seasonal distribution and abundance of potential bluetongue midge vectors across Scotland.

"We will trap many millions of midges, and carry out laboratory analysis of the distribution and numbers of midge species, only some of which can carry bluetongue virus, in different areas of Scotland.

Breeding grounds

"We will also assess the ability of midge species from different parts of Scotland to transmit the virus."

She said an imminent breakout in Scotland was not seen aslikely, but the researchers were laying down ground work.

Dr Blackwell said that there were guidelines in place for restriction of movement of animals along with the control of adult midges through insecticide use.

The scientists are also looking at the treatment of larval breeding grounds for midges.

Richard Lochhead, cabinet secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, said the virus had no food safety or public health issues, but added that recent outbreaks of bluetongue in northwest Europe were of great concern.

He said: "While the immediate risk to Scotland is low it is important that Scottish livestock keepers help minimise the risk through awareness, vigilance and taking care when sourcing their stock.

"The Scottish government is committed to ensuring that animal health policy is underpinned by sound science.

"This research will support the response to any bluetongue outbreak and help minimise its impact on the Scottish livestock industry and the wider rural economy."


SEE ALSO
Bluetongue virus hits Dutch farm
18 Aug 06 |  Science/Nature
Summer proves too hot for midges
16 Aug 06 |  Edinburgh and East
Tourism drive over midge numbers
28 Jul 04 |  Scotland

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