Farmers are being urged to be vigilant and prepare for testing as efforts to control the “rapidly spreading” animal disease bluetongue ramp up.
A six-mile temporary control zone (TCZ) was set up around a farm in Canterbury earlier this week after a cow tested positive for the disease.
It means restrictions are now in place regarding the movement of sheep and cattle.
Bluetongue is a viral disease spread by insects which can infect sheep, cattle and goats.
According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), signs of the illness include lethargy, redness of the mouth, eyes and nose and a fever.
Farmers within the TCZ are now being told to prepare to be contacted by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), who will be carrying out surveillance testing as part of their investigations.
The watchdog says holdings nearest the confirmed case will be prioritised.
Chairman of the Ruminant Health & Welfare bluetongue working group, Dr Joseph Henry, is asking those within the TCZ to keep complying with the rules put in place.
“This new emerging strain has been spreading rapidly in Europe in recent months, and with no current vaccine for this BTV-3 strain, we a pleading with farmers to remain vigilant,” the president of the Sheep Veterinary Society said.
“Our advice and recommendations remain centred around supporting affected farmers as quickly as possible, with the main focus on surveillance.
“Farmers need to beware when buying or moving animals in, take action to report any suspicious clinical signs and prioritise biosecurity, and always, remain vigilant.
“Surveillance and close monitoring of livestock is key.
“The Ruminant Health & Welfare (RH&W) website is the central point of all up-to-date information and will be updated daily, so please visit the website frequently for the latest information.”
For farm holdings within the TCZ, animal movements will not be licensed within or out of the zone, until Defra has a better assessment of the situation.
However, specific licences can be applied for movements deemed urgent due to a genuine welfare need.
This is defined as where animal welfare is, or is likely to be, significantly compromised.
If farmers within the TCZ feel they are in this situation, they must apply to APHA for a specific licence to move animals to a holding within it.
To prepare for testing, APHA is asking farmers to have their documentation and records ready and up-to-date.
He added: “Depending on the nature of the application and the number of applications, you may not have a response for five days.
“It’s recommended that if you wish to move animals, you should apply promptly as soon as it is indicated that a licence is or likely to become available.”
This most recent case of bluetongue was detected during what has been described as “routine surveillance”.
The disease can spread to counties like Kent if infected midges are carried across the English Channel by the wind, which puts the south east coast at higher risk.
It could also reach the UK if infected animals are imported.
Bluetongue has also been reported in a number of European countries.
There is no specific treatment for animals found to have bluetongue other than rest and being well looked after.
Experts say it can’t be passed to humans, with meat and milk from infected animals safe to eat and drink.
Sarah Carter is a health and wellness expert residing in the UK. With a background in healthcare, she offers evidence-based advice on fitness, nutrition, and mental well-being, promoting healthier living for readers.