Foot and mouth crisis: Expert warns of international epidemic

Foot and mouth crisis: Expert warns of international epidemic

September 8, 2001 The Guardian (London) by James Meek and John Vidal
One of the world's leading authorities on foot and mouth warned yesterday that all countries now face epidemics and called for an international debate to reassess vaccination.

Professor Fred Brown, former deputy director of the government's animal virus research institute, who now works with the US department of agriculture, told the British Association science festival in Glasgow that many countries that had been free of the dis ease for decades were now experiencing epidemics.

He said: "While there's a disease around in the world, every country is at risk. The US is frightened to death about what might happen if it gets there. I would like to see an international debate on vaccination." Prof Brown said it was not too late to start vaccinating in Britain. "I think it would help, because you're going to protect animals. The vaccines are very effective. I would vaccinate cattle and rare breeds."

Mark Woolhouse, an epi demiologist based at Edinburgh University who led one of four teams tracking the spread and likely future course of the disease, said it was very uncertain how long the disease would last in Britain.

"There's a lot of chance involved. The projections are somewhere between weeks and many months," he said.

While he recommended vaccination only as a last resort, it would have to be considered if there was an upturn in the number of cases.

"In a sense we're sitting on the disease, not driving it to extinction. We are getting lots of very very small relaxations (in the control regime) that makes life a little bit easier for the virus. You have to ask whether the eradication needs to be beefed up."

Dave Rowlands, professor of molecular virology at Leeds University, said it was only a matter of time before other countries were affected. "When vaccination was stopped in Europe in 1991 a lot of people felt this was a disaster waiting to happen," he added.

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