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Foot-and-mouth source confirmed as research laboratory

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A report released tonight by the Health and Safety Executive has confirmed that there is a "strong possibility" that the cause of the recent foot-and-mouth outbreak is contamination, most probably by human movement, from a nearby research facility in Guildford, Surrey, UK.

The field in which the first infected cattle were grazing prior to testing positive for foot-and-mouth disease.
Image: Kvetina-Marie.

The labs in Pirbright, where both private firm Merial and the governmental Institute for Animal Health operate, have been subject to ongoing investigations since the discovery of a new foot-and-mouth outbreak on Friday. The strain of the disease had already been identified as an O1 BFS67-like virus, which was isolated in a 1967 outbreak and was being used at the labs for research and the production of vaccines. It is not yet known whether the virus escaped from the Merial or the IAH lab.

Since foot-and-mouth was confirmed in cows at a Surrey farm, more than 200 cattle have been culled as a preventative measure. A protection zone has been set up around the affected areas and rules preventing the movement of livestock have been introduced throughout the country, with the aim of stopping further spread of the contagious disease. Restrictions on the import of English beef have already been imposed.

The last outbreak of foot-and-mouth in the UK, in the spring and summer of 2001, resulted in total losses estimated at £8bn. Seven million animals were slaughtered, and tourism was also badly hit.

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