Animal health scare in Suffolk confirmed

SUFFOLK was put on a major animal health alert at the height of this month's foot and mouth outbreak, it was confirmed today.With attention focussed on Surrey and the discovery of foot and mouth disease linked to laboratories in Pirbright, there were fears that the disease bluetongue had arrived here from the continent.

SUFFOLK was put on a major animal health alert at the height of this month's foot and mouth outbreak, it was confirmed today.

With attention focussed on Surrey and the discovery of foot and mouth disease linked to laboratories in Pirbright, there were fears that the disease bluetongue had arrived here from the continent.

Bluetongue is a disease which affects sheep and cattle and causes serious illness and sometimes death in affected animals.

It is carried by midges and there have been outbreaks of the disease in Belgium, France, and Germany.

Last Monday, August 13, a farmer at Capel St Mary near Ipswich feared he had spotted the disease in a flock of sheep.

The government's Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) carried out tests on the animals which turned out to be negative.

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But by then authorities around the county had been put on alert and were ready to introduce restrictions on movements of animals and people.

A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said its officers had been alerted to the concerns and were ready to put in an operation similar to that introduced earlier this year when bird flu was found near Halesworth.

He said: “This was primarily a DEFRA matter, but if it had been confirmed we would have been called in to support the efforts to try to contain it.”

Authorities in Suffolk are aware that the disease is not far away on the continent, and that one significant easterly wind could blow the disease-carrying midges in from Belgium or France.

A spokesman for DEFRA could not give any further details about the scare, but said there were regular reports of potentially serious diseases which had to be checked out and were then found to be negative.

Brian Finnerty from the NFU said farmers throughout southern England were concerned about the danger of bluetongue reaching the country - but emphasised it had not yet reached Britain.

He said: “Livestock farmers know about this disease and know it has reached the north of France and the Low countries so they are being very vigilant.

“It would be bad news if it reaches this country, but being carried by midges everyone in the industry knows it is quite possible that it could arrive at any time so farmers need to keep a close eye on their livestock.”

Bluetongue:

n> First identified in South Africa.

n> It affects sheep, cattle, deer and other ruminants.

n> It does not affect humans.

n> It is spread by midges - not direct animal to animal contact like foot and mouth.

n> If it is discovered in Britain, protection and surveillance zones would be set up - restricting the movement of livestock.

n> It causes problems in the mouth and nose of animals, and can affect the respiratory system and cause haemorrhaging.

n> Up to 70 per cent of an affects sheep flock may be killed by the disease.

Source: DEFRA

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