Scientists at the University of Liverpool say more than 80,000 outbreaks of the disease known as bluetongue in Europe were reported to the World Animal Health Organization between 1998 and 2010, and millions of animals died as a result of the disease.
The viral disease was previously restricted to Africa and Asia but researchers say they believe its emergence in Europe can be linked to increased temperatures, which allow the insects that carry the virus to spread to new regions and transmit the virus more effectively.
"Previous study suggests that climate change will alter global disease distribution, and although we have significant knowledge of the climate triggers for particular diseases, more research is needed to identify what we think might really happen in the future," Matthew Baylis of Liverpool's Institute of Infection and Global Health said.
"We have been able to show that the past emergence of a disease can be explained, in both space and time, by changes to recent climate," Baylis said. "These results reinforce the belief that future climate change will threaten our health and well-being by causing infection to spread."