Foot-and-mouth outbreak linked to research laboratory
Aug 5, 2007 - 8:58:25 AM

London, Aug 5 - The strain of foot-and-mouth disease discovered in cattle in a southern England farm is identical to the strain of virus uses for research and vaccine manufacture at a nearby laboratory, British officials said.

In response to the revelation, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - late Saturday ordered a single, wider protection zone that includes both the farm and the laboratory.

But Defra said it could not immediately say whether the Institute for Animal Health at Pirbright was the source of the outbreak five km away on a farm in Surrey County.

British authorities had already feared more cases of foot-and-mouth disease Saturday and extended their investigations.

A small number of suspected cases included unpublicised infections in laboratories and illegal transport of animals, Chief Veterinary Officer Debby Reynolds said. An intentional release of the virus has not been ruled out either.

'All possible sources' of the disease are being probed, she said.

Reynolds said that her office had ordered the slaughter of 60 cows and the incineration of their carcasses at a farm near Guildford in Surrey.

British authorities have urged farmers to be vigilant for signs of the disease in their livestock. The disease poses little danger to human health.

An urgent review of bio-security at the Pirbright laboratory is underway.

Britain's Press Association reported that the outbreak probe was now focussed on a possible leak from the research facility, which is shared between the Institute of Animal Health and a private veterinary pharmaceutical firm, Merial Animal Health Ltd.

The institute researches diseases of cattle at the laboratory, while Merial activities at the facility include the manufacture of cattle vaccines against foot-and-mouth disease.

'The present indications are that this strain is a 01 BFS67-like virus, isolated in the 1967 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Great Britain,' the Defra statement said.

Merial used the same strain in a batch of vaccine manufactured last month at the Pirbright facility by Merial Animal Health. The firm announced that it has halted vaccine production.

Earlier Saturday, Britain voluntarily halted all exports of cloven-hoofed animals, including live animals, meat and animal products, pre-empting an EU ban expected next week. The ban applies to cattle, sheep and pigs.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Britain would do all it could to eradicate foot-and mouth-disease. He cancelled his holiday in response to the outbreak and chaired a meeting of the government's emergency committee, Cobra.

After the meeting, Brown said that British authorities were working 'night and day' to find the source of the virus and to halt its spread.

A spokesman for the German Federal Ministry of Agriculture said Saturday in Berlin that four shipments of live sheep and one Scottish bovine, all sent within the last 30 days from Britain to Germany, were being investigated.

As a precaution, farms in at least two German states have been sealed off. Japan has announced an import ban on British pork.

Irish Agriculture Minister Mary Coughlan told national broadcaster RTE that Dublin had banned the import of all live animals, fresh meat and non-pasteurised milk from Britain to prevent the spread of the disease.

It was confirmed late Friday that the cows at the farm in Wanborough village were infected with foot-and-mouth.

British authorities imposed a three-km protection zone around the farm and banned the movement of livestock within Britain. A 10-km surveillance zone was also established around the farm. A large number of agricultural fairs and shows have been cancelled.

The European Commission said in an initial statement that Britain had followed all EU-required measures for an outbreak of foot-and-mouth.

The current outbreak is the first in Europe since the outbreak of the disease in Britain in 2001, according to media reports. Parts of the Netherlands and France were also affected in 2001 when up to 10 million animals were destroyed in Britain alone.

The European Commission imposed a complete ban on British meat exports and the estimated economic cost of the crisis in Britain was 8.5 billion British pounds -.

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