There is regular mention of the onset of certain diseases in territories not previously affected by them. The latest has been an outbreak of bluetongue disease in Andalusia.
It is the first outbreak in the Iberian Peninsula since 1960, although the disease had been detected months earlier in the Balearic Islands. But it had not affected Spain alone: earlier outbreaks had been confirmed in Corsica and Sardinia, and in neighbouring Morocco, 28 were detected a month earlier.
Bluetongue is a viral disease that affects sheep in particular. Its name comes from the colour that the tongues of infected animals occasionally develop. Other ruminants may suffer infections that are asymptomatic but important because they have the capacity to spread the disease.
Bluetongue disease cannot be transmitted through direct contact between animals; it is transmitted by the bites of a certain type of midges. The historical habitat of this insect used to be the southern Mediterranean, but climate change is responsible for its appearing further north.
In the case of the Andalusia outbreak, sheep, goats and other ruminants in a large area of the region were immobilized as a precautionary measure. Animals were not allowed to leave their farms, not even to be taken to slaughter, which created a serious problem and big losses for the farmers. The length of the immobilization was not expected to be short since Brussels requires a year to pass without new positive cases before declaring the area to be free from the disease. Measures also included spraying and vaccinating approximately one million animals. According to farmers’ unions, the measures affected almost 25000 farms and more than five million head of livestock. Another consequence was that ruminants were not allowed to gather in cattle fairs as well as in popular festivals.
It should be emphasized that this disease is not transmitted to humans, although this does not mean it is not important. Nowadays, an outbreak of any type of imported disease has enormous economic repercussions in the affected country.
In conclusion, reality has shown us that diseases are dynamic and this must force us to be prepared to face unexpected situations, to not disregard hazards from beyond our borders and to work on prevention.
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