LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Gordon Brown said today that foot-and-mouth disease had been contained within a small area of England, despite tests for a suspected new outbreak in a herd several miles from the initial cluster of cases.
The news raised fears the virus was spreading beyond the area of the original outbreak, despite strict measures to contain it. However, the farmer affected said he was confident his animals did not have foot-and-mouth, and officials said they were optimistic the disease had not spread beyond the southern county of Surrey where it was first discovered last week.
“We have restricted the disease to a limited area of this country,” Brown said. “The risk of it spreading out of these areas is low, if not negligible.”
Chief Veterinary Officer Debby Reynolds said an interim epidemiology report on the outbreak “indicates that infection may be contained to the Surrey area.”
Reynolds said late yesterday that cows in a second area of Surrey had shown “mild clinical signs of infections,” announcing that a new 1.8-mile exclusion zone had been set up around a farm previously unlinked to the outbreak.
The possible new case renewed worries of a repeat of scenes like those in 2001, when 7 million animals were killed and incinerated on pyres. Britain’s agriculture and rural tourism industries were devastated.
The new suspected case is around nine miles away from two farms where cases have been confirmed and a third plot where cattle have been killed as a precaution.
The farmer at the site, near the village of Wotton, said he had called a veterinarian after noticing signs of illness in some of his calves, and because he had links with the area where the earlier outbreaks occurred.
“The vet was absolutely sure this was not foot-and-mouth,” said the farmer, Laurence Matthews.
He said he was awaiting the results of tests, expected later today, “and hopefully they will not show foot-and-mouth at this farm.”
Foot-and-mouth disease does not typically infect humans, but its appearance among farm animals can have a swift and possibly far-reaching economic impact — several countries have banned imports of British livestock and Britain has voluntarily suspended exports of livestock, meat and milk products and destroyed more than 570 cows since the outbreak was identified last week.
Britain’s health and safety agency says there is a “strong probability” that outbreak originated at the Pirbright laboratory southwest of London and was spread by human movement.
The virus was first discovered last week on a farm four miles from the Pirbright complex, which houses vaccine-maker Merial Animal Health — the British arm of U.S.-French pharmaceutical firm Merial Ltd. — and Britain’s Institute of Animal Health.
Merial said it has found no evidence of breaches in biosecurity at the facility. The Institute of Animal Health said yesterday new checks of systems to prevent viruses escaping through the facility’s water system had reported no problems.
“People are going to be even more apprehensive than they have been throughout the whole of this,” Hugh Broom, of the National Farmers’ Union, told British Broadcasting Corp. television. “It will be worrying for members here and farmers elsewhere in the country.”