Defra has urged farmers to be vigilant for signs of Bluetongue virus (BTV) in the wake of a confirmed case of BTV-8 in northern France, a previously disease-free area.
Officials raised concern for south-easterly farmers as the disease currently lies only 150km from the English south coast.
UK chief vet Nigel Gibbens said farmers should consider vaccination and be aware of symptoms, including: mouth ulcers; drooling; swelling of the mouth; head and neck; fever; lameness and breathing problems.
He said: “Our latest assessment shows the risk of outbreak in the UK is currently low, but the detection of the virus in northern France is a timely reminder for farmers to remain vigilant for disease and report any suspicions to the Animal and Plant Health Agency.
“I would also encourage farmers to talk to their vet to consider if vaccination would benefit their business.”
Risk of bluetongue recirculating in the UK is said to be low but farmers have been warned to be sensible about buying cattle from infected areas.
If the disease survives its stint across the English channel from France – which is likely – the south and south-east of England could be looking at at least an 80 per cent chance of infection.
But as the midge-borne virus often struggles to survive across land, the likelihood it would travel upland to Scotland and north England is fairly low.
George Caldow, head of SAC consulting veterinary services, said if bluetongue was to hit the UK, it would likely be stamped out early.
He said: “The situation is as it has been, the risk of incursion in the UK is moderate.
“Currently the advice from Scottish government is that livestock keepers should familiarise themselves with the signs of disease, be vigilant when inspecting their stock and avoid purchasing stock that may have passed through or originate from areas of mainland Europe that are currently under restriction.
“Watch this space because as summer progresses we will know more about its presence.”
Vaccine producer Zoetis urged livestock farmers to vaccinate sheep and cattle ahead of the active midge season, May to October, to protect the free trading of stock.
It came as the pharmaceutical’s national vet manager Carolyn Hogan warned the risk had ‘not gone away’ after more than 560 cases already recorded in France since December.
She added: “France is still picking up cases and as temperatures rise and midge activity increases, the risk of a disease incursion into the UK is likely to rise again.
“From the point of an animal being vaccinated to being protected from disease is over six weeks.
“If bluetongue was to arrive and you were placed under movement restrictions, you need to ask yourself whether you can afford not to move stock for six weeks.”