Possible routes of introduction of bluetongue serotype 8 virus into the epicentre of the 2006 epidemic in north-western Europe

K. Mintiens, E. Meroc, P.S. Mellor, C. Staubach, G. Gerbier, A.R.W. Elbers, G. Hendrickx, K. Clercq

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    In August 2006, bluetongue (BT) was notified in The Netherlands on several animal holdings. This was the onset of a rapidly spreading BT-epidemic in north-western Europe (latitude >51°N) that affected cattle and sheep holdings in The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France and Luxembourg. The outbreaks were caused by bluetongue virus (BTV) serotype 8, which had not been identified in the European Union before. Bluetongue virus can be introduced into a free area by movement of infected ruminants, infected midges or by infected semen and embryos. In this study, information on animal movements or transfer of ruminant germ plasms (semen and embryos) into the Area of First Infection (AFI), which occurred before and during the onset of the epidemic, were investigated in order to establish the conditions for the introduction of this virus. All inbound transfers of domestic or wild ruminants, non-susceptible mammal species and ruminant germ plasms into the AFI during the high-risk period (HRP), registered by the Trade Control and Expert System (TRACES) of the EC, were obtained. Imports originating from countries with a known or suspected history of BTV-incidence of any serotype were identified. The list of countries with a reported history of BTV incidence was obtained from the OIE Handistatus II for the period from 1996 until 2004. No ruminants were imported from a Member State (MS) with a known history of BTV-8 or from any other country with a known or suspected history of BTV incidence of any serotype. Of all non-susceptible mammal species only 233 horses were transported directly into the AFI during the HRP. No importations of semen or embryos into the AFI were registered in TRACES during the period of interest. An obvious source for the introduction of BTV-8, such as import of infected ruminants, could not be identified and the exact origin and route of the introduction of BTV-8 thus far remains unknown. However, the absence of legal import of ruminants from outside the EU into the AFI and the absence of BTV-8 in southern Europe suggest that, the introduction of the BTV-8 infection into the north-western part of Europe took place via another route. Specifically, in relation to this, the potential for Culicoides to be imported along with or independently of the import of animals, plants or other `materials¿, and the effectiveness of measures to reduce such a possibility, merit further study.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)131-144
    JournalPreventive Veterinary Medicine
    Issue number1-2
    Publication statusPublished - 2008


    • epizootic hemorrhagic-disease
    • possible windborne spread
    • animal diseases
    • air streams
    • vectors
    • surveillance
    • africa
    • cattle
    • semen
    • east


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