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Veterinary official: bluetongue viral outbreak in British livestock

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    LONDON — Bluetongue, an animal disease previously unknown to British shores, is now officially a full-fledged outbreak, government officials said Friday.
    The insect-borne virus, once limited to Mediterranean countries, appeared in Britain last weekend after spreading across northern Europe during the past year. It has since been detected in five cattle across Suffolk, in eastern England.
    Farmers had been hoping the cows were sickened as a result of a single infection from overseas. But Britain’s deputy chief veterinary official said epidemiological analyses had confirmed the disease was circulating among the country’s livestock.
    ‘‘I can now confirm that we do have bluetongue virus circulating in this country,’’ Fred Landeg told reporters. He said it was not clear how far the disease had spread.
    The announcement came a day after officials said they would ease restrictions on animal movements imposed in the wake of another animal disease — highly contagious foot-and-mouth.
    The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said Thursday it plans to amend foot-and-mouth disease restrictions to allow movements to livestock markets in low risk areas on Oct. 4, as long as the disease showed no further sign of spreading.
    Foot-and-mouth disease affects cloven-hoofed animals including cows, sheep, and pigs. While it rarely kills livestock, its aftereffects can be debilitating.
    Two outbreaks of foot-and-mouth, both linked to a laboratory complex in Pirbright, about 35 miles southwest of London, have rattled the agriculture industry and resulted in movement and export restrictions on British animals at one of the busiest times of the year for livestock sales.
    Britain’s National Farmer’s Union called the news of the bluetongue outbreak ‘‘a bitter blow.’’
    ‘‘This is a farming industry that is reeling on the back of foot-and-mouth and bluetongue,’’ union’s president Peter Kendall told Sky News television.
    A 12.5 mile control zone and a 93 mile protection zone have been set up around the bluetongue case in an effort to control the outbreak. Farm animals cannot be taken out of the zone, and the movement of animals within the area has been restricted.
    The relaxation of the current restrictions on foot-and-mouth, meanwhile, would be subject to ‘‘stringent’’ biosecurity measures, the environment department said.

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