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UK Human foot-and-mouth: The history

April 23, 2001 BBC Reports

Bobby Brewis is the only person known to have caught foot-and-mouth Although there have been dozens of cases of human foot-and-mouth reported worldwide, the only previous UK case happened in 1966 in Northumberland.

A 35-year-old man, Bobby Brewis, a farm machinery salesman living on a farm with his brother in a hamlet called Yetlington, was reported to have only "indirect" contact with the livestock.

An outbreak of the disease developed on the farm on July 28 that year, and the animals were slaughtered two days later.

Bobby Brewis watched this operation - but took no part in it, although it was reported that milk from infectious animals had supplied the farmhouse.

However, four days later, he developed a mild temperature, a sore throat and blisters on the palms of his hands.

He also developed weals on his tongue.

Single positive test

Traces of the foot-and-mouth virus were identified by testing one tissue sample collected by doctors, although other tissue tests proved negative.

Although the blisters went away after a couple of weeks, they returned on the hands midway through August.

However, he suffered no lasting ill-effects from the viral infection.

It was suggested that the man had an underlying skin condition which made him more susceptible to infection by the virus.

Doctors commenting on the case wrote in the British Medical Journal: "No spread to other humans appears to have occurred in this case, and, as the patient did not come into contact with animals either before or after his illness, there is no evidence of spread in this direction."

They said, however, that there was a clear case for treating the patient in isolation to prevent any risk of disease spread to others, be they animal or human.

World history

Elsewhere in the world, the transmission of the disease is equally infrequent, even in countries where foot-and-mouth is a more common problem in livestock.

The earliest recorded "case" - long before the technology to prove the presence of virus was developed - was written up by 1695 in Germany.

In 1834, a physician called Hertwig apparently managed to self-infect with the illness by drinking milk from infected cows.

However, there is still the suspicion that many reported cases were in fact the similar symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease - a completely different illness.

The virus has been positively confirmed in more than 40 human cases since viral testing was developed.

There may have been more cases in countries

This includes several cases in Europe, and others in Africa and South America.

The symptoms experienced were similar to those felt by Brewis.

After an incubation period of two days, and rarely more than six days, blisters appeared on the hands, occasionally the feet, and the mouth.

The conclusions of researchers who reviewed all the known cases were that - although extremely uncommon - foot-and-mouth was indeed a virus that could cross the species barrier to humans.

The risk to humans was confirmed as low by the cases in the US, Norway and Romania, who were inadvertently exposed to the virus after being injected with contaminated smallpox vaccines - none developed the disease.


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