Bluetongue virus (BTV) can be spread by movement or migration of infected ruminants. Infected midges (Culicoides sp.) can be dispersed with livestock or on the wind. Transmissions of infection from host to host by semen and trans-placental infection of the embryo from the dam have been found. As for any infectious animal disease, the spread of BTV can be heavily influenced by human interventions preventing or facilitating the transmission pathways. This paper describes the results of investigations that were conducted on the potential role of the above-mentioned human interventions on the spread of BTV-8 during the 2006 epidemic in north-western Europe. Data on surveillance and control measures implemented in the affected European Union (EU) Member States (MS) were extracted from the legislation and procedures adopted by the national authorities in Belgium, France, Germany, and The Netherlands. The impact of the control measures on the BTV-incidence in time and space was explored. Data on ruminant transports leaving the area of first infection (AFI) to other areas within and beyond the affected MS were obtained from the national identification and registration systems of the three initially affected MS (Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands) and from the Trade Control and Expert System (TRACES) of the European Commission. The association between the cumulative number of cases that occurred in a municipality outside the AFI and the number of movements or the number of animals moved from the AFI to that municipality was assessed using a linear negative binomial regression model. The results of this study indicated that the control measures which were implemented in the affected MS (in accordance with EU directives) were not able to fully stop further spread of BTV and to control the epidemic. This finding is not surprising because BT is a vector-borne disease and it is difficult to limit vector movements. We could not assess the consequences of not taking control measures at all but it is possible, if not most likely, that this would have resulted in even wider spread. The study also showed an indication of the possible involvement of animal movements in the spread of BTV during the epidemic. Therefore, the prevention of animal movements remains an important tool to control BTV outbreaks. The extension of the epidemic to the east cannot be explained by the movement of animals, which mainly occurred in a north-western direction. This indicates that it is important to consider other influential factors such as dispersal of infected vectors depending on wind direction, or local spread.
- culicoides variipennis