August 08, 2007

Foot and Mouth: a second confirmed case, and the HSE's initial report

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DEFRA have confirmed that a second farm has been culled, and foot and mouth disease confirmed. The second farm is within the original Protection Zone, so this doesn’t represent a significant geographic spread. There’s an interesting question as to whether this is another primary case, or whether it was infected by the first farm. It may never be possible to answer this unambiguously, but everyone will be hoping it’s another primary case, as that would mean that there have been no secondary cases so far still. This would be good, as it would mean that the current containment policies appear to be working.

The Health and Safety Executive has published its initial report on the suspected biosecurity breaches at the Pirbright site. I noted yesterday that Pirbright was the likely source of this outbreak, and I’m a little disappointed to note that the HSE report doesn’t tell us much more than what we already knew or could surmise. It rules out airborne spread as a “negligible likelihood”. The likelihood of waterborne spread is also assessed to be “negligable”, although further investigations are being carried out.

That leaves human movement as “a real possibility”. Again, further investigations are being carried out. That would be embarrasing if it were shown to be the case! The tabloids have been making much of the HSE’s failure to rule out deliberate sabotage, but that seems unlikely to me: if you wanted to release FMD, you wouldn’t pick a bit of Surrey that’s only lightly populated by livestock farms to do it in, and you’d pick a time of year when there were more movements of animals going on. Hopefully we’ll actually have some useful findings from the HSE in due course…

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