Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Gone Viral: Bluetongue Disease.

My apologies to the shepherds in Africa. The disease covered in the entry is really no laughing matter, yet I have the hardest time taking it seriously. I mean no offense to anybody, but when the name of a potentially-lethal disease is reminiscent of the effect of blue raspberry candy in one's mouth, it's a little hard to not giggle.


This sheep has been affected with bluetongue disease, a Reovirus that pretty much goes wherever sheep happen to be. It started in Africa, then spread to Europe, the U.S., Australia, and other places with sheep. It's also called catarrhal fever. The disease affects mostly sheep, but can also hit cattle, deer, goats, and almost any other ruminant. It does not affect humans at all. Still, upon finding it, it was too weird not to write something about.

Bluetongue disease is carried by a small insect called a midge (Culicoides). This means that BTV season  coincides with midge season, which is usually summer/fall. This also means that it's not really transmitted from sheep to sheep; kill the bugs and it won't happen. Since it is very, very hard to eradicate every midge in the area, it's advised that sheep be kept indoors around dusk, when the bugs are most active.

The main symptoms of this thing are fever, swelling of the face, excessive salivation, and, sometimes, a blue tongue (called "cyanosis" if you want to be really technical). Some cases also involve foot lesions, giving it the nickname "dancing disease." Mind, the virus does not turn sheep tongues bright blue. The effect of cyanosis is more like a bruise-blue than any artificial blue one can think of, making the whole thing less attractive. It also happens that not every case involves a blue tongue anyways. 

 As one can probably imagine, there are cures for this disease. Many sheep die within a week of getting it; others can be treated with vaccines from local strains. Recovery takes months. Regardless, this is one blue tongue that is not so fun to have. Please stick to blue raspberry things, and do not give them to sheep.

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