October 15, 2007


 Foot-and-mouth disease resurfaces in Britain

Posted Oct. 1, 2007

Just days after British officials declared the latest foot-and-mouth disease outbreak over, the virus re-emerged Sept. 12 on a cattle farm not far from the original outbreak in southwest England. At press time in late September, with the virus seemingly contained to a total of five sites and no additional cases reported, the government was slowly beginning to ease its national movement ban on cattle, sheep, pigs, and other ruminants.

"This is news that no one wanted to hear, least of all the farming industry," Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs Secretary Hilary Benn said in a statement following confirmation of the new case on Sept. 12.

Earlier that month, a government agency released its report on the origins of the FMD outbreak that began Aug. 3. The contagion appears to have started when live virus, leaking from damaged drains at a research facility, spread to a nearby farm in contaminated mud carried on construction vehicles. In addition, excessive rainfall may have increased the potential for the virus to be released from the drains and into the soil.

Initially, the highly infectious virus was thought to be limited to two farms in Surrey, prompting the culling of hundreds of cattle and a three-week ban on livestock exports (see JAVMA, Sept. 15, 2007). Shortly after the government declared the outbreak over, the virus resurfaced on three additional farms.

Dr. Debby Reynolds, Britain's chief veterinary officer, called for increased vigilance and adherence to biosecurity measures by the nation's farmers. "Welfare codes already require that animals are inspected at least once a day. I am now urging that these checks are carried out twice a day given the current circumstances," she said.

The government report focused on possible biosecurity breaches at a research complex in Pirbright, a village in Surrey, shared by the government-owned Institute for Animal Health and Merial Animal Health Ltd.

This summer, each group worked with varying amounts of the live virus strain 01BFS that caused disease in the first infected herd in Surrey. According to the government's investigation, sequencing tests indicated that the strain is likely to have originated from the Pirbright site. Because of very small differences in the strains used, however, it was not possible to pinpoint the exact origin of the virus found in the infected animals.

Still, the lack of certainty did not dissuade Benn from calling on everyone involved to "put right every weakness" identified in the report. "Even in these extraordinary circumstances, this should not have happened and must not happen again," he said. "That is why we are taking every possible precaution to prevent this from happening again."