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Heightened Risk of Bluetongue Virus Outbreak in UK Leads to Ongoing Monitoring

13 September 2016

UK - The Pirbright Institute and Thermo Fisher Scientific are closely monitoring and preparing for the potential outbreak of Bluetongue virus (BTV) Type 8 in the UK, where the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) estimates there is a 60-80 per cent risk for the pathogen to reach by the end of the midge season.

Reports that the midge-borne virus has been circulating in France since the summer of 2015 and Defra’s recent warning have led to heightened awareness and plans to minimise the potential risk of a major BTV outbreak in the UK.

“The heightened awareness has enabled the community to be better prepared in its effort to monitor and control the spread of the virus,” said Professor Peter Mertens, OIE BTV expert who has studied the virus for more than 30 years (former research leader and head of the Vector-borne Viral Diseases (VVD) Programme at the Pirbright Institute).

“All animals imported from BTV-affected areas are tested five to seven days after arrival to ensure they are not infected or incubating the virus, and vaccines - known to be highly effective against the current French strain of the virus - are already readily available from several vaccine manufacturers.”

Cattle The EU community reference laboratory at Pirbright carries out routine diagnostics from samples sent from European countries and partnering organisations to help maintain a global picture of BTV serotype/strain movement and distribution, while identifying and typing the virus.

To date, all tests in the UK to detect BTV in cattle have been negative, but Simon Carpenter, current head of the VVD programme at The Pirbright Institute, expects the number of suspected cases to grow later this summer, particularly if there is potential for wind-borne infected midges to reach the UK from France.

The VetMAX product line of BTV assays, the current PCR-based, molecular tests being used in the UK, were developed by The Pirbright Institute in partnership with Thermo Fisher. The Institute first used PCR assays to identify BTV Type 8 samples from the Netherlands in 2006, but it needed a commercial partner with the ability to scale production.

“We are a research institute, not a commercial manufacturer,” Prof Mertens said. “We needed to find a helpful and like-minded commercial producer to develop and distribute the tests and manage the daunting logistics. Our lab focused on designing, identifying and typing BTV and Thermo Fisher further developed the tests to make sure they are robust and reliable, while effectively handling production, packaging and distribution.”

Role of Diagnostics

The first step in diagnostic testing is to confirm whether or not the animals are infected with BTV. There are 29 identified serotypes (with potential for still more to be discovered), so it is important to have a single test that can detect any of these viruses.

If BTV is detected, the next step is to serotype the strain to apply the appropriate vaccine. For this, Prof Mertens said he uses the Thermo Fisher BTV typing tests that were originally designed by the Arbovirus Molecular Research Group at Pirbright and based on the Pirbright Institute’s virus collection of 3,500 isolates from all over the world.

“Thermo Fisher has also been a great help in setting up our laboratory with the required equipment,” Prof Mertens said.

“Especially the KingFisher sample preparation system for automated and standardised nucleic acid extraction, which has greatly streamlined our diagnostic testing processes, and helps to ensure that different laboratories using the same tests and equipment will get directly comparable and reliable results. In the event of an outbreak here in the UK, we are ready.”

For more information about the Applied Biosystems VetMAX line of BTV products, please visit www.thermofisher.com/animalhealth.

TheCattleSite News Desk



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