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Could a mass vaccination programme to eradicate bluetongue be on the cards?


Mass vaccination programmes lasting at least five years in combination with improved, continuous surveillance systems would be the only effective measures for eradicating bluetongue in Europe, The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded.

Its experts have reviewed control measures for bluetongue and options for safe trade of animals from infected to free areas, following a request from the European Commission.

Bluetongue is a vector-borne viral disease of domestic and wild ruminants such as sheep, goats, cattle and deer. It is transmitted through the bites of certain species of Culicoides midge

According to the EFSA, the eradication of bluetongue is very difficult and it says at least five consecutive years of vaccination covering 95% of susceptible cattle and sheep would be needed.

It also says such mass vaccination campaigns would have to be followed by sensitive surveillance systems capable of detecting low levels of virus prevalence – lower than 1% of animals in a monitored area.

The disease could otherwise re-appear some years after completion of the vaccination campaign, the experts said.

Surveillance systems should be defined on a case-by-case basis taking into account aspects such as the geographical area monitored and the epidemiological phase of the disease.

EFSA experts also highlighted that:

  • New-born animals receive antibodies from their mothers that protect them from the disease for about three months. However, these antibodies may interfere with vaccination, thus making vaccination ineffective during this period. Immunity starts in most cases 21 days after the second dose of the basic vaccination scheme.
  • Some species of the midges that transmit the disease are active throughout the year – especially in mild-winter areas such as the Mediterranean basin. In these areas, transmission of the virus may occur at any time. In colder areas, such as in northern Europe, midges are inactive for about three winter months, during which transmission is halted.

The EFSA’s scientific advice assists policy-makers as they review legislation on bluetongue.

It will now classify different types of bluetongue according to their characteristics by the end of June 2017. This will help identify specific protection and control measures.

Online Editors