The recent arrival of the bluetongue virus in the United Kingdom
indicates again that animal diseases are advancing globally and
countries will have to invest more in surveillance and control
measures, FAO said today.
“No country can claim to be a safe haven with respect to
animal diseases,” said FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph
“Transboundary animal diseases that were originally confined to
tropical countries are on the rise around the globe. They do not spare
temperate zones including Europe, the United States and Australia,” he
Globalization, the movement of people and goods, tourism, urbanization
and probably also climate change are favouring the spread of animal viruses
around the planet.
“The increased mobility of viruses and their carriers is a new
threat that countries and the international community should take seriously.
Early detection of viruses together with surveillance and control measures
are needed as effective defence measures,” Domenech said.
“This requires strong political support and funding for animal
health and more adequate veterinary services. Many countries are still
not prepared to deal with this new threat,” he added.
Disease bugs on the move
Examples of human and animal disease agents that were previously mainly
found in tropical regions and that have spread internationally include:
West Nile Virus, transmitted by mosquitos, carried by birds and sometimes
affecting also humans; Leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease that spreads
through the bite of infected sand flies; and tick-borne Crimean Congo
Haemorrhagic Fever. African horse sickness, a disease transmitted by
the same midges that also carry bluetongue, may follow soon. African
swine fever has recently reached Georgia and Armenia and poses a threat
to neighbouring countries.
Mosquitos that can transmit major human diseases such as yellow fever,
dengue and chickunguya have already reached European countries and may
constitute a major public health concern.
The non-contagious bluetongue virus affects all ruminants (cattle, goats,
deer and sheep) although symptoms are generally more severe in sheep.
The virus, spread by Culicoides insects, is not transmitted directly
between animals and does not affect humans.
Bluetongue was first discovered in South Africa but has spread to many
countries. It had crossed the Mediterranean by the end of the 1990s.
Since the summer of 2006, the virus has been found in Belgium, Germany,
Luxemburg, the Netherlands and the north of France and most recently
in the UK.
The reason why bluetongue has spread to northern Europe remains unclear.
The virus is apparently adapting to new local insect carriers of the
Culicoides genus which survive cold temperatures.
“We never expected that the bluetongue virus could affect European
countries at such high latitudes,” said FAO Animal Health Officer
Stephane de la Rocque. “The virus is already endemic in Corsica
and Sardinia but could also persist in northern European countries.”
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