English Hoof-and-Mouth Disease Spreading

Published Monday, February 26, 2001

Livestock Disease Spreads in Britain
By LAURA KING / Associated Press Writer

LONDON (AP) -- Racehorses stayed in their stables. Soldiers stood down
from a military maneuver. Zoo-goers who hoped to see an elephant or a
giraffe went away disappointed.

The ripple effects of Britain' s week-old outbreak of foot-and-mouth
disease spread far beyond the farm Monday, as all sorts of everyday
activities were curtailed in the struggle to stem the virulent
livestock ailment.

More new cases cropped up, bringing to 12 the number of farms or
slaughterhouses where the highly contagious infection has been found.
More than 7, 000 animals -- mainly pigs, cows and sheep -- have been
slaughtered in Britain, and another 3, 500 killed in continental
Europe, where no cases have been found but authorities fear the
disease could spread.

" This is a nightmare for the whole farming community, " said farm
leader Ben Gill, who met Monday with Prime Minister Tony Blair. "
People are scared out of their wits."

Blair told the British Broadcasting Corp. he would consider
compensating farmers who lost livestock.

" It' s a dreadful blow, coming on top of so many other problems
within the farming industry, " he said, referring to outbreaks of mad
cow disease and swine fever. " We will do everything we possibly can,
to make sure not just that the disease is eliminated, but that we help
farmers in their difficulties."

Because horses can carry the virus -- although not catch it -- races
were halted Monday at the Newcastle track, close to the scene of one
outbreak, and a wider ban was being weighed by racing authorities.
Organizers of show-jumping events were also considering cancellations.

After heavy snow fell in Scotland, officials left some rural roads
unplowed for fear of stirring up dirt and manure containing the virus,
which can be carried long distances by the wind.

At least three schools in virus-hit areas closed and teachers who live
on farms were told to stay home. Hunts have already been suspended,
and on Monday a pro-hunting group postponed a mass march -- months in
the planning -- that had been set for next month to protest a proposed
ban on fox-hunting with hounds.

A major two-week military exercise to begin Friday was being hastily
revised because it involved use of ground troops in an area close to
an infection site.

Hiking groups scrapped country walks and fishing streams were closed
to anglers. Safari parks, zoos and nature reserves were closing or
keeping animals susceptible to the disease -- including rhinos,
giraffes and elephants -- well away from people.

A rugby match between Wales and Ireland, set Saturday in Cardiff,
Wales, may be called off because authorities are afraid Irish fans
could bring the virus home with them.

Foot-and-mouth disease, which afflicts cloven-hoofed animals like
sheep, cows and pigs, is extremely easy to spread. Although humans
almost never catch the disease, they can carry it on boots and
clothing. The virus can also be airborne, transmitted from one animal
to another, or contracted through contaminated feed.

Out in the countryside, leaping flames lit the night sky over snowy
fields as workers built giant bonfires of livestock carcasses.
Wholesale slaughter is considered the only way to stop the epidemic,
and so great is the fear of contagion that the animals' bodies are
burned to ash and then buried in deep pits.

Exhausted veterinarians were working around the clock testing
livestock, and distraught farmers examined their herds for the dreaded
telltale blisters on the animals' feet andmouth.

" I spent every hour through the night worrying about the cattle, "
said farmer George Thomas, whose cows turned out to be infected. "
Words cannot explain it -- it' s just devastating."

The European Union urged member states to trace livestock imported
from Britain before a ban was imposed last week. Although no cases
were found, authorities in Germany killed 350 imported sheep as a
precaution, and the Netherlands slaughtered more than 3, 200 sheep,
cows, pigs and deer brought from Britain before the outbreak was
discovered Feb. 19. In Spain, the Agriculture Ministry ordered the
destruction of 540 pigs imported from Britain, although the animals
showed no sign of disease, state radio said.

For beleaguered farmers, the timing could hardly be worse. Mad cow
disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, struck a heavy economic
blow in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, and British pig farmers
endured a swine-fever outbreak last summer.

The ghastly sight of pyres of burning animal carcasses brought back
memories of a 1967 epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease, Britain' s
worst, which forced the slaughter of nearly half a million livestock.
Some officials fear this outbreak could be even worse.

" It has been quite traumatic seeing ... all the dead animals, " said
Sue Scott, who lives only a few hundred yards from one of the carcass
bonfires. " It was very sad."

Even Britain' s royals felt the effects of the epidemic. A park that
doubles as the home of Princess Alexandra, a first cousin of Queen
Elizabeth II, was closed to the public to protect its herd of royal
deer, whose bloodlines go back to the time of Henry VIII. The princess
has to disinfect her shoes every time she enters the estate.

Prince Charles broke out the disinfectant at his farm in Highgrove, in
western England.

The prince had been set to participate for the first time in the
Shrove Tuesday soccer game at Ashbourne in central England. The
centuries-old event, a village-wide match involving scores of players
and goals set three miles apart, was called off, with Charles'

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