Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Foot and Mouth: A Brief history in time.

Before we go any further I would suggest you make a cup of tea or coffee and get comfortable as I have a feeling this is going to be a long post. You see I have been looking a little deeper into the current foot and mouth crisis that the UK farmers may be facing. I have gone back to the foot and mouth epidemic of 1967 and tried to take things from there to the present date. To start lets define a few words. (Definitions taken from Wikipedia online free dictionary).

1 Crisis: an unstable situation of extreme danger or difficulty; "they went bankrupt during the economic crisis" .A crucial stage or turning point in the course of something; "after the crisis the patient either dies or gets better" .

2 Endemic: in a broad sense, can mean "belonging" or "native to", "characteristic of", or "prevalent in" a particular geography, race, field, area, or environment; native to an area or scope. It also has two specific meanings: endemism: an organism being "endemic" means exclusively native to a place or biota. endemic (epidemiology), an infection is said to be "endemic" in a population when that infection is maintained in the population without the need for external inputs.

3 Epidemic: In epidemiology, an epidemic (from Greek epi- upon + demos people) is a classification of a disease that appears as new cases in a given human population, during a given period, at a rate that substantially exceeds what is "expected," based on recent experience (the number of new cases in the population during a specified period of time is called the "incidence rate"). (An epizootic is the same thing but for an animal population.)

4 Pandemic: (from Greek ??? pan all + ????? demos people) is an epidemic (an outbreak of an infectious disease) that spreads across a large region (for example a continent), or even worldwide.

The last major foot-and-mouth epidemic in the UK occurred in 1967-8. Since the start of the current outbreak, the Government has looked at different aspects of the 1967-8 experience. This report summarises those comparisons.
In the thirteen years before the 1967-8 epidemic, there were only two years with no recorded outbreaks of foot-and-mouth. Most were rapidly contained, but in the early 1950s there was also a substantial epidemic. Periods of freedom from foot-and-mouth outbreaks before 1967 were measured in months not years. At the time the disease was endemic throughout Europe and as a consequence there was greater awareness of the clinical picture both in the UK and on the continent.
But since the adoption of the recommendations in the 1969 Northumberland Report, there had been only one outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the UK: in the Isle of Wight in 1981. Further investigation confirmed that the primary outbreak was due to windborne infection from Brittany in northern France.

1. In the fifty years before the 1967-8 epidemic, there were three official inquiries into foot-and-mouth epidemics and the Government's response, in 1922, 1923-4 and 1953.

2. Origins of the outbreak
Both in 1967 and in 2001, the origins of the infection is crucial to understanding why the outbreak grew to epidemic proportions.
The most likely cause of the 1967-8 epidemic was infected Argentine lamb that had been legally imported and then, legally, entered the animal food chain. On Saturday 21 October 1967, the owner of Bryn Farm in Oswestry, Shropshire, noticed that one sow was lame. On Wednesday 25 October, veterinary advice was sought and the disease was diagnosed. 17 pigs on the farm were infected, but by then one cow had already been sent to the local market (another was stopped from reaching the market by the police). Because the cow did not show any signs of infection, a decision was taken to disperse all the other animals that had been at the market, rather than slaughter them. Subsequent inspection showed that none of these animals were infected from contact with animals from Bryn Farm.
However, a second outbreak of the disease occurred on Saturday 28 October, and a third was confirmed the next day. Nine outbreaks were confirmed on Monday 30 October, including three some distance from Bryn Farm. The next day there were 11 outbreaks. In the following week, another 105 were reported, rising to 222 the week after.
The subsequent investigation by the Chief Veterinary Officer concluded that in 24 outbreaks throughout the entire epidemic there was a possible link with frozen lamb from Establishment 1408 in Argentina. It was this multiplicity of primary outbreaks that made the control of the disease so difficult. Source.

In February 2001 we see the initial break out of Foot and Mouth in the UK, this case took just two weeks to become an epidemic and spread across the country.

1. 19 February 2001: Outbreak begins at Little Warley in Essex
2. 23 February 2001: After more cases erupt in Essex the disease makes its first major leap and arrives at the other side of the country in Heddon-on-the-Wall in Tyne and Wear
3. 24 February 2001: A day later the disease moves back south to Highampton in Devon
4. 27 February 2001: As the number of cases rises across England foot-and-mouth makes its first appearance in Wales in Gaerwen, Gwynedd
5. 1 March 2001: In under two weeks the epidemic reaches Cumbria and Scotland
6. 3 March 2001: Cornwall is also hit, as foot-and-mouth covers the length and breadth of Britain

Total cases
The disease, and the culling that went with it had a devastating effect on millions of animals. The chart below shows how fast the disease took hold.


According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs the final number of confirmed cases reached over 2,000. The graph below shows the daily case figures since outbreaks began in February until they tailed off in September.


One of the most important comparisons to be made is between this outbreak and that of 1967. The first ten weeks showed similarities in the rise and fall of the number of cases:

An estimated £2.3bn of taxpayer's money has been spent on the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis.
It has emerged that 37 farmers are to receive compensation payouts of more than £1m.
People did not expect it to happen again after thirty years. They had reduced their insurance cover because of the farm income crisis - and they thought it wouldn't happen again
Sylvia Newton NFU Mutual
So why is the government paying the bill, and why aren't farmers insured against the disease?
The answer is simple. There is basically no need for farmers to take out insurance.
This is because the government says that it is required, under the 1981 Animal Health Act, to compensate farmers for losing their animals as a result of disease control measures. (Source)
As far as my search tonight has gone I could not find a conclusive source of the 2001 outbreak of FMD except for an interesting article which says that a phial containing the foot-and-mouth virus went missing from the Porton Down research laboratories had been raised at a public inquiry into the disease. Northumberland County Council was hosting the five-day investigation into the spread of the virus and how rural communities were affected.
Professor Michael Dower, leading the inquiry, said he was still waiting to hear from the government regarding the matter. He wrote to rural affairs minister Lord Whitty on January 8 with a list of questions which had arisen from information the inquiry had received locally.
Professor Michael Dower is chairing the inquiry
Professor Dower asked: "What forewarning did the Ministry of Agriculture (Maff) have of a possible foot-and-mouth outbreak prior to the outbreak in February?
"Several of the written submissions the inquiry received refer to reports of a lost phial of foot-and-mouth virus from Porton Down," he said.
Professor Dower said there had been reports that the disease was present in the country before it was officially admitted.
There were also "reports that Maff officials were taking preparatory steps (eg making inquiries of timber merchants, taking part in simulation exercises, printing of `footpath closed' notices etc) before the outbreak of the disease was officially announced."
"Can you confirm or deny these reports or provide any further detail?" (Source)

Taking you back to the post I made yesterday I said that "Merial is home to the Institute for Animal Health and are the only facilities in Britain licensed to work with live foot and mouth strains". If this is the case what was Porton Down doing with the FMD Virus? Especially when you consider that since 1916 when Porton Down was established it was and still is a research laboratory for the Ministry of defense. If you want more information on Porton Down may I suggest you run a Google search on it, I must warn you though what you will find would not be out of place in a Science fiction or horror movie. You might like to start your search on Porton down by clicking "Here" for a brief history on Porton Down.

Now jumping from 2001 to present day a second outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain was confirmed last night as efforts to pin down the source of the outbreaks continued. About 50 cattle from a second farm within a protection zone in Surrey were culled after the herd showed early signs of the disease. Farm owner Laurence Matthews said the slaughtered cows belonged to another farmer who sometimes grazed his livestock there. "We were starting to think this virus had been contained and maybe we were going to be getting back to normality in a few weeks," he said. "Now this has set us back again and most farmers . . . are very, very scared and all activity on farms is coming to a standstill." Farmers are angry the slaughtered animals are to be transported 130km for incineration. (Hang on, I thought there was a total ban on the transportation of live stock around the country).

They believe the measure is to avoid damaging images of carcasses burning in fields, but consider it ridiculous to cart the infected animals across the country. Chief vet Debby Reynolds urged British farm owners to remain vigilant. Experts investigating the source of the first outbreak, which affected 97 cattle, were expected to reveal their findings late last night. The probe has centred on a research laboratory that stores the disease for use in vaccines. There was anger last night when the Government's Chief Veterinary Officer announced that the Government was buying 300,000 doses of foot-and-mouth vaccine from the suspect factory "as a precaution". Farmers reacted with disbelief that the American factory suspected as being a source of the outbreak could profit from the crisis. Recent flooding in the area around the farms is also thought to have played a possible role in spreading the disease. A nationwide ban on moving cows, sheep and pigs remains in force, and some countries have banned British meat and dairy imports.
Newspapers have generally praised new Prime Minister Gordon Brown for his handling of the crisis, which after the failed car bombings and widespread river flooding is the third since he took office on June 27.
The 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic cost Britain's economy about $19 billion, saw up to 10 million animals slaughtered and battered the rural economy.
The current export ban could cost the British meat industry $24 million a week, the Meat and Livestock Commission has warned.

This has just been taken from the website www.cnnmoney.com: (This updates an article published at 1916 GMT with additional background, comments from IAH, government.) LONDON -(Dow Jones)- An investigation into the recent foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in England has found there is a "strong probability" that the strain originated from the Pirbright laboratory facility, the U.K. government's Health and Safety Executive said Tuesday. I think that I can confirm this with what I found earlier tonight. Taken from Observer.guardian.co.uk "Scientists made a breakthrough last night as they identified the strain of the virus as one which is not naturally occurring, but is a vaccine strain called 01 BFS67, and has never been seen before in Europe. This enabled investigators to link the outbreak to a company which lies less than three miles down the road from the source of the outbreak."

At a press conference in London, the government's chief veterinary officer, Debby Reynolds, said one of her first acts was to review biosecurity at Pirbright.
She said earlier in the day, before the strain was known, that the government was 'focusing on all possibilities: legal, illegal, lab-based, deliberate release - all those possibilities will be investigated and I wouldn't want to put any undue emphasis on any of those'. A few potential cases had been reported in the wake of the discovery of infected cattle, some of which had already been found to be negative while others were still coming in, she added.
Yesterday Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the environment secretary, Hilary Benn, broke off their holidays to hold two emergency Cobra meetings to discuss the outbreak.

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