Monday, 6 August 2007

Foot-and-mouth flood theory

There is now a theory that the Foot and Mouth outbreak in Surry may have came from a patch of farmland which was flooded. A statement given by Debby Reynolds Government's chief veterinary office said today. "The investigation on the farm is taking all factors into account including flooding, movement, and everything that is related to events in the lead-up period to the report of suspicion being made, There is interest in a particular area on the farm where there was some flood water and that is one of the features that is being examined." If this is the case, given the amount of flooding that has happened in the UK over the past few month and the vast areas which have been under water or connected to each other by flood water, why is it that only one farm in Surry should have been infected with Foot and mouth, later we will see just how tough FMD is and how easily it travels, so surely there would have been more cases if the floods are to blame.

Although this is an interesting theory and does serve well to draw the blame away from Pirbright Research laboratories I believe the theory to be flawed. Now bearing in mind I am not a veterinary major and have no experience in flood born diseases or infections other than what I have watched on the discovery channel, to me it does not ring true. Drawing from information I found which came from a Dr. Alan P. Zelicoff, MD, author of “Microbe: Are We Ready for the Next Plague?” and a senior scientist at ARES Corp., a risk-management consultancy whose clients include NASA and the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense, with regards to the floods in New Orleans not so long ago and the diseases that could follow once the waters receded. Dr. Zelicoff almost at once ruled out the possibility's of Cholera, saying "“There is no cholera in New Orleans—and there hasn't been any for over 100 years—so the chances of it occurring were virtually zero. Typhoid, if it did occur, would be extremely difficult to spread—except among those foolish enough to drink the sewer water. Anyone with the slightest understanding of environmental [naturally occurring] infectious disease would understand this. And tetanus is caused by a soil organism that can get into cuts and bruises. It is certainly awful for the individual who gets it, but there were no cases. Tetanus has never been reported to transmit from person to person—other than among IV drug users who share infected needles—so it was way down the list of diseases of importance.”Yes I know there is a big difference between the flood which hit New Orleans and the floods we in the UK have experienced but I am taking this as a "worst possible scenario," thinking that if the disease did not occur in New Orleans then there is little chance of it happening here, considering the temperature differences between the two areas.
The genuine major disease threats, according to Dr. Zelicoff, include:
Meningococcal meningitis
Hepatitis A (and perhaps hepatitis B, while less likely)
Enterovirus (a virus that infects the gastrointestinal tract, with the ability to spread to other parts of the body)
Each of these diseases, he explains, may occur when individuals are confined to crowded quarters. "Source"

So now that we have looked into the possibility of Foot and Mouth being spread by flooding lets have a look at what I believe to be the source of the Foot and Mouth outbreak. Pirbright Research laboratory or rather the Merial's laboratory which is on the Pirbright complex. info-UK0508s 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 or so we are lead to believe anyway. The foot and mouth strain in the infected cattle at Woolfords Farm matches that used in an experimental vaccine by Merial Animal Health three weeks ago. Prof John Oxford was quoted to say that the Merial lab was the probable source of the leak. He said the disease might have come from a batch of vaccine accidentally containing the live virus. The most likely explanation was a breakdown in the process of testing to make sure the virus was harmless before it was taken from the maximum security facilities where it was manufactured. Professor Oxford, professor of virology at Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry in London, went on to say: "The most likely scenario is that they had tested the batch of vaccine and convinced themselves it was dead, but in fact there could have been live virus lurking in there. They could then have taken it to a less secure environment, and possibly even immunised some experimental animals with it. If a slip-up has happened, it is probably at that stage. It is a known problem and has led to outbreaks in the past."

Viruses such as the Foot and mouth virus, Ebola and H5N1 are handled in a closed cabinet using special gloves. (Question: why has Professor Oxford mentioned the Ebola virus and H5N1 virus when talking about Pirbright and Merial research laboratory's when these laboratory`s are supposed to be involved in animal welfare?). This must be within a room with an air lock. Foot and mouth is a tough virus and can spread through movement of animals as well as on people and vehicles. It can also travel considerable distances in the air. Early last week the wind was a southerly, blowing over Merial and the institute facilities towards Woolfords Farm. Scientists believe there are three main potential routes via which the virus may have escaped. It may have been carried by a member of staff who had not followed the correct decontamination procedures. It is not possible to test an entire batch of vaccine for live virus, so the standard practice is to test vaccine samples. Merial is known to keep animals on its site for research purposes, It is not known whether Merial has begun using the experimental vaccine on these animals yet.

To close, Farmers are facing a bill for tens of millions of pounds as international bans are imposed on British produce. The EU and Russia are today formally prohibiting the import of meat products from the UK. Last time the disease struck Britain the total bill mounted to more than £8 billion as thousands of cattle were killed, halting sales abroad and damaging demand at home. It is hoped that this outbreak will not be as devastating, but "it will certainly be in the millions already," according to Anthony Gibson, the National Farmers' Union (NFU) director of communications. Farmers, who stand to lose more than £10 million a week from the meat export bans alone, may sue if a Government research laboratory turns out to be the source of the outbreak.

Note: I know for certain that if Pirbright or Merial are found liable I would sue if I was a farmer...