ANPL Agriculture Minister Piet Adema (right) visited a company affected by the virus
NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 14:38
The bluetongue virus is spreading rapidly through the Netherlands. At the beginning of September, the virus was diagnosed at four sheep farms in North Holland and Utrecht, but figures from the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) now show that at least 319 companies have been infected. Most are located in the center of the country, but the virus is increasingly appearing in other regions. Cows also become infected.
It is the first time since 2009 that the disease, which poses no danger to humans, is present in the Netherlands again.
The Netherlands Agriculture and Horticulture Organization (LTO) has been told by its members that “the disease is taking on serious proportions”. “Unfortunately, we receive many reports of high mortality among affected sheep,” says Jeannette van de Ven, Healthy Animals portfolio holder at the LTO. This concerns more than 400 reports. “In addition, more and more reports are being received about cattle with serious symptoms. Our members are concerned and that is understandable when we look at the progression of the disease.”
It is not clear how many sheep and cows have succumbed to the virus so far. According to Siert-Jan Boersema, sheep farmer and veterinarian in Purmerend, the virus appears to be spreading much faster this time than during the previous outbreak seventeen years ago.
“It is almost impossible to keep up. With treatment at an early stage, you can still pull animals through, but when you are later, this is less successful.” Boersema himself has fifty sheep. Last week, six died, one survived the infection.
Veterinarians in Utrecht are working hard this week. “It is so busy that we can hardly handle it,” ruminant veterinarian David Speksnijder told RTV Utrecht earlier this week. He and his colleagues saw dozens of dead animals. “This is a silent disaster.”
Bluetongue is spread through midges, and not through direct contact between infected animals. Midges are mainly found between April and the end of autumn, but the less cold winters now threaten to be more favorable for the midges than during the previous outbreak in 2006. The virus is expected to spread throughout the country before winter. has spread, said Agriculture Minister Adema. And otherwise it will spread again after winter.
A small sheep farmer in Kortenhoef in North Holland lost five of his eight sheep, he says in the NOS Radio 1 Journaal. A cow is also in bad shape. Bluetongue has struck heavily in the area, says his wife. “For us there are five out of eight, but there are also sheep farmers with one hundred and forty sheep. It is really heartbreaking.”
A suitable vaccine
The Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality says it is busy looking for a vaccine. According to sheep specialist Marc van der Heide of the University Agricultural Pet Practice, there is no prospect of this for the time being. “We are dealing with type 3 here. The bluetongue infection in 2006, 2007 and 2008 was type 8. A vaccine was then developed for that. However, it is not the case that the vaccine for type 8 also provides protection against type 3.”
And even if vaccinations were to take place now, according to Van der Heide the question is what use this would still have in areas where the virus is already circulating. “It will take at least six weeks before the animals are protected by a vaccine.”
The ministry is investigating whether and how quickly a safe and well-functioning vaccine for this type of virus is available outside Europe. It could possibly come from South Africa, but that vaccine has not yet been approved for Europe. The ministry says it is in discussions with all parties involved. “We are also in discussions with pharmaceutical companies in the Netherlands for a longer-term solution.”