Bluetongue is an insect-borne, viral disease affecting sheep, cattle, deer, goats and camelids (camels, llamas, alpacas, guanaco and vicu. Although sheep are most severely affected, cattle are the main mammal reservoir of the virus and are critical in the disease epidemiology. The disease is non-contagious and is only transmitted by insect vectors (midges of the Culicoides species). The disease is caused by a virus belonging to the family Reoviridae. Bluetongue virus is a notifiable disease in many countries.
BTV affects sheep, cattle, deer, goats and camelids (camels, llamas, alpacas, guanaco and vicu. Humans are not affected.
Clinical signs are most apparent in sheep, where the disease is characterized by fever, widespread hemorrhages of the oral and nasal tissue, excessive salivation, and nasal discharge. In acute cases the lips and tongue become swollen and this swelling may extend below the lower jaw. Lameness, due to swelling of the cuticle above the hoofs and emaciation, due to reduced feed consumption because of painful inflamed mouths, may also be symptoms of this disease. The blue tongue that gives the disease its name occurs only in small number of cases. Convalescence of surviving sheep is slow. The high fever in sheep results in wool breaks, which adds to production losses.
Goats, cattle, and wild ruminants such as deer can appear healthy when infected. This can lead to silent spread by midges feeding on the infected animals.
The virus cannot be transmitted between susceptible animals without the presence of the insect carriers. The incidence and geographical distribution of bluetongue depends on seasonal conditions, the presence of insect vectors, and the availability of the susceptible species of animals. The insect carriers, biting midges, prefer warm, moist conditions and are in their greatest numbers and most active after rains.
Bluetongue virus does not survive outside the insect vectors or susceptible hosts. Animal carcasses and products such as meat and wool are not a method of spread. Survival of the virus within a location is dependent on whether the vector can overwinter in that area.
At least 26 different serotypes of the bluetongue virus have been identified (with potential for still more to be discovered). The BTV genome evolves rapidly via mutations. Some virus variants may be selected as they are better adapted to the environmental conditions. This evolution and selection of variants during the transmission of BTV between susceptible animals and vector (midges) appear to be the main mechanism that leads to the genetic diversity amongst BTV field strains.
Disease control measures
The strategy is to contain the outbreak and minimize trade impact. Activities include:
- Restriction of movement of animals if BTV is suspected
- Confirmation of suspected cases by laboratory tests
- Zoning to define infected and disease-free areas
- Vaccination of susceptible animals
- Surveillance to determine the extent of virus and vector distribution
- Vector surveillance and control strategies
If you suspect BTV in your herd, the first step is to contact your veterinarian. The next step is to work with your veterinarian to obtain blood samples from animals for diagnostic testing to confirm whether the animals are infected with BTV. At least 26 different serotypes of BTV have been identified (with potential for still more to be discovered), therefore it is important to have a single test that can detect any of these viruses. If BTV is verified, the next step is to serotype the strain to apply the appropriate vaccine.
Real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) detection tools can quickly and reliably identify whether BTV is present in the herd and identify specific genotypes.
Virus diversity needs to be closely monitored and diagnostic test tools capabilities regularly tested to detect new variants. Here, the collaboration with national reference institutes is required to regularly monitor virus sequences and update diagnostic tools if needed.
For more information about BTV diagnostic tools visit Bukoola veterinary pharmacy