The European Union’s top public health official said Tuesday that bluetongue, an insect-borne virus that affects goats, sheep and cattle, is spreading fast through Europe and may turn endemic in many European Union countries.
Once present only in southern Europe, the disease has recently been detected in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Luxembourg and Britain, and the spread shows no signs of stopping, EU health commissioner Markos Kyprianou said. Some 14,000 outbreaks have been registered in this region this year alone, he said.
Bluetongue is not harmful to humans, but can be fatal for ruminant animals, especially sheep. It is transmitted by certain species of midges - small flies - once common only in Mediterranean climes. Experts say the insect has moved further north due to global warming. Various new forms of the virus have been detected in the EU.
"It's a concern to us that the disease is moving to different parts of the EU," Kyrprianou said. He said the EU had no "natural allies" - such as birds that might eat the insects.
He said a vaccine against a form of the virus detected in northwestern Europe - the so-called serotype 8 - is being developed by two companies but is only likely to be on the market in 2009.