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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

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Vets are zoning in on deadly cattle virus

FOUR Tynedale veterinary practices have joined forces to set up a BVD eradication zone as part of a national control strategy.

Around 35 farms in Hexhamshire have agreed to take part in a round of calf blood sampling which will establish whether the Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) virus is present.

Hexham-based Scott Mitchell and Associates and Intake Veterinary Services have teamed up with Jim McLellan and Associates in Prudhoe and Stocksfield’s Bearl Equine Clinic to try to make the area – which was chosen because of it’s natural boundaries – BVD free.

The Defra and EU funded initiative is being delivered by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board as one of the first steps towards developing and rolling out a control strategy for England.

Many industry professionals consider that England has long been lagging behind on both control and eradication of BVD, compared to much of the rest of Europe.

Scandinavian countries have been particularly successful, with Norway declared BVD-free in 2006, following a 14-year eradication programme.

The disease is notifiable in several member states, including Austria, Belgium and Denmark.

And compulsory testing for BVD began in Scotland in December 2011.

However, BVD is not always easy to spot, although acute cases may suffer abortion and infertility.

The virus suppresses the immune system, leading to respiratory and enteric illnesses and can cause bleeding and mucosal disease, both of which are fatal.

The main threat comes from a small number of animals which are “persistently infected” (PI) animals.

These have become infected in the uterus during early pregnancy and the virus will remain with them for life.

PI calves often die prematurely, but they may live for several years, passing the virus to other animals.

A range of tests are available to detect infection, including blood testing and milk sampling.

“We held an initial consultation for farmers last week in Whitley Chapel Village Hall,” explained Jo Bates, head of large animal care at Scott Mitchell and Associates.

“That was really positive and they all seemed really keen to try to tackle this virus, which figures suggests costs farms across the country around £39m a year.”

Euan Laidlaw from Intake said: “If you have no foot-and-mouth and take that out of the equation, BVD has the single biggest impact on the UK farming industry, because of the losses it causes and the morbidity rates.”

The highly contagious virus is transmitted through cattle to cattle contact and is present in the saliva and muck of animals.

Therefore, the natural geography of Hexhamshire, which has the cattle-free boundaries of both the Hexhamshire and Blanchland Commons surrounding it, made it the natural place to establish an eradication zone.

Between now and March 2014, funding will be made available for the four Tynedale vets to take blood samples and test whether the virus is present in calves of around nine to 12-months-old.

A management plan will then be discussed and drawn up with any farms that test positive, giving farmers the opportunity to have further testing to identify the PI animals at their own cost, with a view to them being culled.

Jo explained: “Even the BVD vaccine which is available is not 100 per cent effective in the presence of a PI animal.”

For more information on the initiative, contact Jo at Scott Mitchell and Associates on (01434) 608999.

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