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Cabinet OKs free ‘bluetongue’ vaccine for farm animals

The Cabinet has approved the administration of a free vaccine against the bluetongue disease to around half a million sheep, goats and cattle, Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis said on Friday.

Consumption of meat or milk from affected animals does not harm humans, government officials have said.

The minister said that the vaccine, which will cost €700,000, will be offered free of charge to veterinarians to administer to animals, which will be concluded in two doses.

Kouyialis added that efforts are underway so that half of the cost for the vaccination be secured from European Union funds.

Bluetongue had been confirmed in Cyprus at the beginning of October after test results confirming the disease were found in samples sent to the UK. It is an insect-borne, viral disease of ruminants, mainly sheep and less frequently cattle, goats, buffalo, deer, dromedaries, and antelope. It is caused by the bluetongue virus (BTV), which is transmitted by midges.

The government was under fire earlier in the month by farmers who had said it was not quick to deal with the outbreak of bluetongue among the island’s sheep population, which has also affected milk production.

The state vet services, however, had said this was not the case as they had made arrangements to use insecticide against the midge population and had also made enquiries with companies abroad to buy vaccines.

“The disease is currently in remission,” Kouyialis said. He added that the aim is to vaccinate animals so that in case the disease is back, animals will have the antibodies to cope with the disease.

According to the state vet services, some 850 animals died so far, and around 1,440 suffer from the disease. The vet services had said that the total control of the disease was not feasible due to the means of transmission.

According to the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), bluetongue “is a transboundary disease, so national measures are insufficient to control its spread”.

The disease has 26 serotypes. Until now, only serotypes 4 and 16 have ever been recorded in Cyprus and because of acquired immunity there have been no cases of clinical symptoms in decades. The disease was first diagnosed in Cyprus in 1924 and can be fatal to sheep.

Bluetongue is not transmitted to humans, nor to other animals, as it is solely transmitted through insect bites, the vet services said. In the unlikely possibility that humans consume meat or milk from infected animals, they are not in danger.

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