- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 7, 2007

NORMANDY, England — Tests have confirmed a second outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease southwest of London, Britain’s environment secretary said today, raising fears the highly contagious virus could spread to herds across southern England.

A second batch of cows, tested late yesterday, were within the initial two-mile-radius protection zone set up Friday around the farm where a first group of infected cattle was found, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said.

The first outbreak occurred just four miles from a laboratory that produces vaccines containing the same rarely seen strain of foot-and-mouth disease, officials said.

Mr. Benn was expecting an initial report today following checks to see whether there have been breaches in security or safety at the laboratory, which is the main focus of the investigation into the outbreak.

However, Roger Pride, who runs the farm near Godalming in southern England where the first outbreak was confirmed, said he believed contamination of a local sewer could be behind the cases.

The outbreaks follow widespread flooding, and investigators are examining the possibility that the waters might have helped spread the virus.

“The theory that the sewer which overflows into part of the field where the 38 cattle were grazing could be the cause is an obvious possibility,” Mr. Pride said. He said no one at the infected farm had any contact with the vaccine laboratory.

Mr. Pride said staff at the farm realized there was a problem when they noticed that the cattle were “off color and drooling.”

“For a moment, we couldn’t believe it. We were completely shocked and devastated,” he said. “It felt as if our whole world was turned upside-down.”

News of a second confirmed outbreak fed fears of a repeat of 2001, when a foot-and-mouth epidemic led to the slaughter of 7 million animals, devastating agriculture and rural tourism.

“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,” farmer Laurence Matthews, who owns the farm where the second infected herd grazed, told British Broadcasting Corp. radio today.

“Now this has set us back again, and most farmers, and I’ve been speaking to a few, are very, very scared,” he said. Mr. Matthews, who met Prime Minister Gordon Brown when the leader toured the region yesterday, said the infected cows belonged to a fellow farmer who used his land.

Britain’s Chief Veterinary Officer Debby Reynolds said yesterday that the strain found in the first herd matched samples taken during Britain’s 1967 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. The strain had not been seen in animals for a long time but was used to produce vaccines, she said.

The vaccine laboratory is shared by the government’s Institute for Animal Health and a private pharmaceutical company, Merial Animal Health, the British arm of Merial Ltd. of Duluth, Ga.

Merial said it found no evidence of a breach in biosecurity, and the IAH said a check of records found “limited use” of the virus in the past four weeks.

Foot-and-mouth disease affects cloven-hoofed animals, including cows, sheep, pigs and goats, but does not typically affect humans.



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