Next foot and mouth outbreak will not require mass cull
In 2001 10 million farm animals, including 700,000 cattle, were slaughtered at a cost of about £8bn
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; twice commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigative journalism. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Friday 06 May 2011
The mass culling of cattle to control outbreaks of foot and mouth disease may soon be a thing of the past, according to scientists who have made a breakthrough in understanding how the virus is transmitted.
A study has established a hidden "window of opportunity" between the point when a cow becomes infected with the foot and mouth virus and the time when she is able to transmit the virus to another animal.
Scientists said that this discovery, combined with the realisation that cattle are only infectious for about a two-day period, means it should be possible to identify infected animals and eliminate them from a herd before they can pass on the infection.
If tests for detecting the virus can be made that are cheap enough and fast enough to be used by farmers in the field, epidemics could be controlled without having to cull huge numbers of uninfected cattle, as happens now.
"We now know that there is a window where, if affected cattle are detected and removed from the herd promptly, there may be no need for pre-emptive culling in the immediate area of an infected farm. We have an opportunity now to develop new tests which can detect infected animals earlier and reduce the spread of the disease," said Professor Mark Woolhouse of Edinburgh University.
In the devastating 2001 epidemic, 10 million farm animals, including 700,000 cattle, were slaughtered and burnt at a total cost to the UK economy of about £8bn. Yet relatively few of these animals were infected with the virus; most were cattle and sheep living on farms next to affected farms.
The study, published in the journal Science, was conducted by researchers at the Pirbright Laboratory in Woking, Surrey, part of the Institute for Animal Health. They examined a smaller, localised outbreak of foot and mouth in 2007 on a nearby farm to study how the virus is transmitted.
The team also performed experiments in which an uninfected cow was placed for eight hours next to an animal that had been deliberated infected with the virus. Tissue samples were used to monitor how the transmission developed. Testing for viral genes showed when the uninfected animal became infected, and when the deliberately infected animal was able to transmit the virus. The team found that cows with foot and mouth virus only become infectious about half a day after showing the first clinical symptoms of the disease and remain infectious only for 1.7 days – less than half what had been thought.
Professor Woolhouse said: "There is a short window of opportunity, a day or two, when we can tell when a cow is infected with foot and mouth virus but it is not infectious to other cows." Previously it was thought that cows were infectious from the time they their infection was detected, he said.
Liam Neeson's Downton dreams
Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage
- 2 Scottish referendum results: David Cameron set to unveil major devolution of powers to England
- 3 iOS 8 is full of shiny new features - but it's terrible news for app developers
- 4 Scottish independence: Tory revolt against 'devo max' grows as Rail Minister Claire Perry joins
- 5 Hitler’s former food taster reveals the horrors of the Wolf’s Lair
Scottish independence results live: Reunited kingdom - Scotland gives a clear 'No' in historic referendum
Scottish referendum results: David Cameron set to unveil major devolution of powers to England
Iranian blogger found guilty of insulting Prophet Mohammad on Facebook sentenced to death
Scottish independence: YouGov final prediction puts No campaign 8 points ahead - but Yes team remains optimistic
Scottish independence: Tory revolt against 'devo max' grows as Rail Minister Claire Perry joins
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Scottish independence: The Queen breaks silence on referendum debate – as think tank warns of £14bn black hole if Scotland votes Yes
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'
£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Teacher looking fo...
Negotiable: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Newly Qualified Teacher lo...
£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Part Time Primary TeacherOur...
£7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: The Job:School Science Technici...