In December 1995 to March 1996 and the early summer of 1997 South Africa experienced above
average rainfall which favoured the occurrence of Culicoides transmitted diseases. During this period
several outbreaks of an uncommon disease of cattle occurred over a large part of the country. The
clinical signs were similar to those of infection with the viruses of bluetongue (BT) and epizootic
haemorrhagic disease of deer (EHD). Virus isolation from cattle and Culicoides yielded both viruses.
Dual infections occurred on several farms. Typing of BT isolates yielded types 2, 3, 6 and 8. On at
least two farms more than one BT virus serotype was involved. On one farm only EHD virus could
be isolated from cattle and Culicoides. Serological tests confirmed that on this farm the disease
was caused by EHD. In 1932/33, when a similar disease was reported conditions were vastly different.
Rainfall figures show that the 1932/33 season was exceptionally dry. Techniques available
at that time could not identify EHD and the cause was reported to be BT. The occurrence of BT in
a dry season and over a much wider area than the distribution in South Africa of Culicoides imicola,
the only proven vector for BT, is a clear indication that other species less dependent on high rainfall
are involved. The present isolation of BT virus from three of five pools of parous C. bolitinos is evidence
that this species, which breeds in cattle dung, may be an additional vector for BT.
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