Foot-and-mouth: Fears for humans grow

April 25, 2001 The Independent (London) by Nigel Morris

TWO MORE suspected cases of people with foot-and-mouth disease were being investigated yesterday amid increasing fears that the disease was spreading in the human population.

The Government has repeatedly asserted that there is no risk of contracting the human equivalent of the disease unless they are in very close contact with infected livestock. But as ministers battled to reassure people in rural areas about the negligible risk to public health of the foot-and- mouth epidemic, the tally of possible human cases of the disease reached three. The Government is now bracing itself for possible new cases among people living in foot-and-mouth "hot-spot" areas of Cumbria and Devon.

The first suspected victim - a slaughterman from Cumbria - was sprayed with fluid from the decomposing carcass of a cow he was moving. The results of tests on him are not expected until the weekend. He is understood to be Paul Stamper, from Dearham, who was involved in moving carcasses to a mass burial site. Mr Stamper, who is married and has two children, one a toddler, the other aged about six, has blisters on his tongue and in the back of his throat but not on his hands or feet. He has told friends that he "wasn't feeling too bad".

Ministers had hoped his case would prove to be a freak incident, but the Public Health Laboratory Services confirmed last night that investigations were under way into a further two possible cases. No details of the new suspected cases were available.

A spokesman for the Central Public Health Laboratory at Colindale, north London, which is analysing samples from all three, said: "There are a lot of symptoms that can seem similar to foot-and-mouth and the case yesterday has obviously raised concerns."

Downing Street insisted that, although the condition was highly infectious among farm animals, it was extremely difficult for it to be contracted by humans. A spokesman said: "As we have said throughout, there is no health risk to the general population."

But Tim Yeo, the shadow Minister of Agriculture, said he was worried about signs of a possible spread to humans and would be spelling out his fears in the Commons today. He said: "There's a serious danger that if the Government are trying to catch up with the disposal backlog quickly that proper safety procedures aren't being followed correctly. They must review these procedures to prevent the likelihood of such incidents happening again."

The disease is extremely mild in humans [Not always], with people suffering only flu- like symptoms and blisters on hands and in the mouth. There are no recorded cases of human-to-human transmission of the disease and there has been only one previous recorded case of human foot-and-mouth in Britain [Not true. The endocarditis case was British as well--BSE coordinator].

The Government admitted yesterday that people living near burning pyres of slaughtered cattle could suffer health problems. The Department of Health advised them to keep their doors and windows shut and to wash fruit and vegetables exposed to smoke.

The public was urged to avoid "sustained exposure" to large pyres. The DoH guidance said that while pyres contained high concentrations of irritants such as sulphur dioxide, people were not at risk from the likely levels of dioxins.

The Food Standards Agency is to monitor levels in food and other samples from the area around larger pyres to ensure there are no long- term safety problems.

By last night 13 more cases of foot-and-mouth among livestock on farms had been confirmed, taking the total number of outbreaks to 1,465 but confirming the spread among livestock appeared to be slowing.

Meanwhile, the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, was accused of blocking emergency help for the struggling tourist industry. Senior industry figures said a decision on a pounds 57m aid package was needed within days.

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