Friday, February 23, 2001

Britain in frenzy to contain disease

Foot and mouth seen in livestock

By Laura King
The Associated Press

        LONDON — Brandishing bright-yellow tape to cordon off farms and slaughterhouses that could harbor foot-and-mouth disease, veterinary inspectors set out into the English countryside Thursday, searching for new cases of the highly contagious livestock ailment.

        Working frantically to contain Britain's first outbreak of the disease in two decades, agricultural officials said the next week would be crucial. One new case was found Thursday, three days after the sickness surfaced.

        The struggle to stem the disease — which rarely sickens humans, although they can spread it through contact with animals — took on the aspect of a national emergency. The government urged city dwellers to avoid strolls in the countryside. Rural letter-carriers were told to go only as far as farm gates.

        Hunting groups agreed to call off the chase for at least a week. And zoos considered steps to protect susceptible animals like elephants, rhinos and camels.

        The story dominated tabloid headlines and TV bulletins. Grainy old news footage was aired, showing smoke rising from huge piles of dead animals that were burned during a 1967 epidemic that forced the slaughter of nearly half a million cows, pigs and sheep. A smaller outbreak occurred in 1981.

        Although Britain voluntarily suspended exports of live animals, meat and dairy products, the United States, Russia and the European Union also imposed import restrictions.

        The virus is easily spread. It can be airborne, or tracked from one place to another on boots and clothing, or pass from one animal to another, or be transmitted when livestock consume contaminated milk or meat — for example, a pig or a goat eating someone's discarded sandwich.

        Foot-and-mouth disease affects cloven-hoofed animals, including sheep, goats and cows. It is not usually fatal in itself, but wholesale slaughter in affected areas is considered the only means of stopping its spread.

        Transmission to humans is extremely rare, but possible if a person is in close contact with an infected animal, the Food Standards Agency said. Humans can not catch the disease by eating meat or drinking pasteurized milk.

        The United States bought 4,000 tons of British pork in 1999 and “substantially less” in 2000, the Agriculture Department said.


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