Detection of first outbreaks of MHE in cattle farms

The national reference laboratory for animal health in Maisons-Alfort (Anses) confirmed, at the end of last week, the presence of the Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) virus on cattle on three farms located in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques and the Hautes-Pyrénées.

MHE is an infectious, vector-borne viral disease (arbovirus) of domestic and wild ruminants, mainly white-tailed deer, and cattle, indicates GDS France. Sheep, goats and camelids may also be susceptible, but do not show clinical signs. The virus is transmitted between ruminant hosts by species of biting midges of the genus Culicoides. Infections are therefore seasonal.

The clinical signs are very similar to those of bluetongue (BCF). GDS France specifies them: fever, anorexia, dysphagia, emaciation, ulcerative stomatitis, lameness, respiratory distress and udder erythema. The Ministry of Agriculture specifies that “this disease generates very low mortality” and that, to date, no vaccine exists.

MHE has long been known in North America, where it particularly affects white-tailed deer. It also circulates in Australia, Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. In Europe, it was revealed in Italy (Sardinia and Sicily), Portugal and Spain. In the latter country, monitoring of cases in wildlife and in ruminant animal farms revealed a gradual increase from the South to the North and the East between 2022 and 2023. The last cases recorded by the Spanish authorities at the end of August were located less than 100 kilometers from the French border.

Regulatory consequences
MHE is a disease regulated at European level and notifiable. Impacted countries have an obligation to establish surveillance measures in order to monitor the evolution of the disease in space and time. Thus, the Ministry of Agriculture published a decree on September 24. “The objective is to prevent the spread of the disease from identified outbreaks and to ensure health surveillance of the area,” specifies the ministry.

The system defines surveillance, prevention and control measures for EHD in cattle, sheep, goats or deer in the event of suspicion or confirmation of infection. In particular, it establishes a regulated zone in all municipalities located within a perimeter of 150 kilometers around any livestock infected with the virus. Cattle, sheep, goats or deer from farms located in the area cannot leave it. A list of exemptions is established for specific animal movements (return from summer pastures, sending animals to the slaughterhouse or export under conditions). These provisions have been effective since September 25.

In terms of animal movements, European regulations do not impose movement restrictions on national territory. On the other hand, the regulations prohibit the sending to other Member States of the European Union for breeding purposes of any ruminant coming from farms located within a radius of 150 kilometers around each household. Direct dispatch for slaughter in another Member State remains possible. Any export restrictions depend on the import requirements provided by each third country.

Consequently, the cessation of movements towards States of the European Union concerned, on September 21, all or part of several departments (64, 65, 40, 32, 31, and 09 in full; 40, 33, 47, 82, 81, 11 and 66 in part). The press release indicates that the Ministry of Agriculture “has initiated discussions in collaboration with professional organizations to facilitate the recovery of trade flows towards Member States and third countries wishing to maintain their supplies from France”.

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