A major livestock disease that has resurfaced in Europe could have been triggered by human activity, according to a new study writes Shan Ally.

The bluetongue virus (BTV) is a pathogen which infects domestic animals including sheep, goats, and cattle, along with wild animals.

Researchers suggest that the virus resurfaced after being stored in frozen samples and during artificial insemination and embryo transfers that are widely used in the livestock industry.

BTV first arrived in Europe in 2006 from unknown sources, it was controlled through mass vaccination by 2010, and no cases were reported until it re-emerged in France in 2015.

Professor Massimo Palmarini, of the University of Glasgow, said: "In order to survive, to be transmitted and to find new hosts, viruses need to replicate.

"New mutations are an inevitable consequence of this, so viruses can't remain 'frozen in time'.

"While there is still lots for us to learn about virus biology, the most plausible explanation for our findings is that exposure to infectious material, stored from the earlier outbreak, caused the most recent emergence of this virus in Europe."

The outbreak caused severe losses of sheep and considerable damage to the farming industry, including billions of Euros lost over the last two decades.

The team compared genomes of the virus, before and after it re-emerged and found that during both the 2006 and 2015 outbreaks, BTV accumulated novel mutations in a manner expected for a rapidly evolving virus.

They discovered that during the period in between the two outbreaks, there was a curious lack of mutations, indicating that the virus was likely not circulating during this period.

The genetic similarity between the original and re-emerging viruses suggests that the 2015 outbreak was caused by infectious material that somehow arose from the first outbreak.

They suggest that the virus resurfaced after being stored in frozen samples, likely from artificial insemination and embryo transfer.

The study suggests that this transmission mechanism should be evaluated to prevent further outbreaks and damage to the farming industry.

The findings were published in the journal PLOS Biology.

READ MORE: Government confirms extra month to claim for farm payments