Exotic animal diseases spreading to temperate regions

GLOBE - Spread of bluetongue and other more exotic diseases confirms that animal viruses from tropical countries are moving to more temperate zones - which is of particular concern for European livestock producers.
calendar icon 9 October 2007
clock icon 4 minute read

Midges have brought bluetongue across seas

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, says the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation.

“No country can claim to be a safe haven with respect to animal diseases,” said FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech.

“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 added.

Globalisation, the movement of people and goods, tourism, urbanisation and probably also climate change are favouring the spread of animal viruses around the planet. And, the increased mobility of viruses, and their carriers, is a new threat that the international community must take seriously.

"Early detection of viruses together with surveillance and control measures are needed as effective defence measures. 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,” Domenech said.

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 and have already reached European countries. They 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. 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 for its spread to northern Europe remains unclear, although it is thought that the virus is adapting to new Culicoides genus carriers which can survive cold temperatures.

“We never expected that the bluetongue virus could affect European countries at such high latitudes but, the virus is already endemic in Corsica and Sardinia but could also persist in northern European countries,” said FAO Animal Health Officer Stephane de la Rocque.

Further Reading

- Find out more information on AFRICAN SWINE FEVER by clicking here.
- Find out more about Bluetongue disease by clicking here.
- Go to a previous article on ASF in Georgia by clicking here.
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