Children stressed over foot and mouth

Children stressed over foot and mouth

June 11, 2001, The Times (London) by Valerie Elliott

Hannah Tweedie is one of many young people living in the countryside who have been emotionally distressed by the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

Her five pet lambs were among more than 1,000 cattle and sheep that were slaughtered in April at her parents' 350-acre farm near Penrith, Cumbria. Health chiefs fear that thousands of children have been disturbed by similar experiences and that scenes of dead carcasses and pyres have left them vulnerable to stress and depression.

A Forum for Rural Children and Young People, funded by the Countryside Agency, will examine the needs of young people living in rural areas. It is feared that their wellbeing could be jeopardised further if the rural economy suffers any more setbacks. The forum's priority is to assess the needs of teenagers in the worst affected foot-and-mouth areas.

Hannah, 15, who is taking GCSEs and sat a geography exam last week, said that she was still susceptible to bouts of tears. "I was really worried what would happen if they asked about agriculture and the state of dairy farms," she said. "I know if there had been a question like that I would have cried. Tiny things like that trigger the sadness."

Describing the death of the lambs at Great Salkeld farm, she said: "It was awful. They were really like children to me. Now all I have are pictures."

Schools in Cumbria have reported concerns about pupils having to spend weeks away from the classroom. Some are returning distressed and emotionally drained.

Peter Tiplady, director of public health for North Cumbria, said yesterday that teachers had acted very positively and were trying to use schools as havens where children could escape from their experiences.

Schools have said that girls in particular have been emotionally affected by the slaughter of animals. It was also reported that ten-year-old boys at primary school were more subdued and appeared to understand the long-term implications for the economy and the countryside.

Dr Tiplady said: "The worst affected children were those who live on infected farms. They saw it all and lived with the bangs of guns and the piles of dead animals."

His staff have contacted health chiefs in Devon and North Yorkshire, the other badly affected areas, to share observations. Dr Tiplady will ask the NHS for additional funding to conduct research into the effects of the disease. He plans to carry out an epidemiological study of a group of people in an infected area to identify health patterns.

Dr Tiplady also hopes to establish a panel of about 50 people whom he will ask to keep diaries for a year. The group will meet to discuss the impact of the disease on their daily lives and to record personal details such as inability to sleep or nightmares.

Hannah said that she was particularly concerned for local boys who were hoping to make their careers in farming. "It's really made some of them rethink what they are going to do with their lives," she said. "Some were going to go to agricultural college, but what are they going to come back to? I also know some people who've been on farms for months now and their only contact with people is by phone. That must be very hard."


A new case of foot-and-mouth was confirmed yesterday at High House farm in Westerdale, Whitby, North Yorkshire. More than 500 animals, including 54 cattle, 220 ewes, 47 pigs and 200 lambs, had already been slaughtered because it had been identified as a dangerous contact farm.

There were seven confirmed new cases on Saturday, including one at a farm near Bridgwater, Somerset. All animals on that farm had also been slaughtered as a precaution before the positive test results were received.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that the total number of confirmed cases was 1,726, including four in Northern Ireland. An estimated six million farm animals have already been slaughtered. The Government has given the official figure as 4.2 million, but this does not include two million lambs, calves and piglets.

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