While it is a story on the news about a farm or small holding in another county it is just that, a story on the news. Unless you are a farmer or are employed in the food industry the stories of ‘foot and mouth’, ‘blue tongue’, avian flu or, now, Swine Flu are something that may raise a passing interest. But, as it has done now, when the disease crosses county lines and farms not too far away have been reported as having pigs, cattle or sheep destroyed then it raises more than a passing interest.
With the latest outbreak of Swine Flu reaching the UK and Europe and panic being spread by the media it is worthwhile looking at some of the facts and fiction behind these diseases that are being passed from animals to the human population.
Last year television news proclaimed that ‘blue tongue’ had reached our shores, but no reports informed us as to what exactly this dreadful sounding ailment was. Neither had they told us in the past, while proclaiming our own meat sources were not safe, that in Europe over two million cattle and sheep had been destroyed because of this latest blight to hit our nation’s farms.
‘Blue tongue’ a deadly virus that is carried by midges. We are not sure how an exclusion zone is supposed to work with this particular disease, do they hope that the midges will behave and stay in one area? It is believed that the disease carrying insects have been brought to the UK via Europe from Africa and that it is yet another by-product of global warming that have allowed them to increase and travel.
It affects cattle, sheep, goats, deer and other ruminants, but sheep are the most susceptible to it. A single bite from an infected midge usually results in death of the animal within just a few days of the first symptoms showing. It causes mouth ulcers, which spread to the nose, and eyes and the tongue may turn blue as the head and neck swells. It can also cause lameness and breathing difficulties as well as internal bleeding and in the worst cases it will cause the animal to die.
Infection in cows is usually symptom-less but they can be the cause of it spreading to the other animals. The midges pick up the virus from biting an infected animal and the bug then multiplies inside the insect that passes it on when it bites its next victim.
So far ‘blue tongue’ has affected over 8,000 farms across Europe in under ten years and although the midges usually only travel a mile or so a day it is believed that the disease reached Britain after a cloud of midges was carried over the English Channel.
Although scientists are working a vaccine on, there is currently no cure. If the disease does appear to spread exclusion zones will be much bigger than for foot and mouth. Those areas could be up to 15 times larger and cover more than 90 miles. Mass slaughter as with other diseases is not the answer as it is the midges that carry the problem. The biggest hope for farmers is for a cold winter to hit our countryside, as the virus cannot survive in temperatures below 15c.
The disease that affects us most as walkers and country lovers who wander over footpath and farmland is foot and mouth. DEFRA say that it is an infectious disease affecting cloven hoof animals such as cattle, pigs, sheep and goats.
Even zoo animals such as camels, llamas and elephants can also be infected. As we have already become aware this disease is devastating for the rural economy and our farms in particular. Although it is serious for animal health and welfare it is not fatal to adult animals. It is debilitating and also causes a loss in areas such as milk production yield.
We are just learning of the effects of this latest disease to hit our farm stocks and the human strains that are causing so much panic in countries such as Mexico. If it does hit us hard then there will be rules and again it is the farmers who will suffer but we can all play our part.
We all love and respect our countryside and many of us rely on it for our living so for the time being keep on enjoying your walks and visits but just be aware that signs may appear warning of footpath and access closures. Please heed these warnings and do your bit to protect our countryside and hopefully someone will tell us in clear and simple terms, what it is, what to do about it and should we really be panicking.
© David Rose-Massom April 09