Ten foot-and-mouth cases found

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The Independent Online

Black smoke from a flaming pyre of livestock carcasses drifted across a busy highway - a grim reminder for passing commuters of the growing toll of Britain's first outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in two decades. More new cases were confirmed Monday.

Black smoke from a flaming pyre of livestock carcasses drifted across a busy highway - a grim reminder for passing commuters of the growing toll of Britain's first outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in two decades. More new cases were confirmed Monday.

Fears intensified that the highly contagious livestock ailment could spread to continental Europe. As a precaution, authorities in Germany slaughtered nearly 350 sheep that had been imported from Britain before the first cases of foot-and-mouth disease were discovered at a slaughterhouse one week ago.

Hopes of swiftly containing the outbreak dimmed Sunday when, after a 24-hour lull, more new cases were confirmed at a farm in Devon in southwestern England.

The farm had shipped sheep to Europe before an export ban took effect last week, raising fears that the disease could have already have made its way into European herds.

The European Union urged member states to trace livestock that had been imported from Britain. European agriculture officials met in Brussels to discuss the crisis, and Prime Minister Tony Blair was holding talks with farm leaders.

In Essex county, northeast of London, where the first cases were found, the smell of burning animal carcasses hung in the air, and gray and black smoke drifted across the fields from two enormous piles of slaughtered pigs and cattle set ablaze Sunday night. It was the first mass incineration since the outbreak began.

Commuters on the busy M25 motorway could see the billowing smoke rising from the two 100-meter-long (yard-long) piles of flaming carcasses. More animals, including a herd of pedigree Limousin cattle, were being slaughtered and incinerated at a farms elsewhere Monday.

To reduce the threat of contagion, the carcasses were being burned to ash and buried in deep pits.

So far, more than 7,000 animals have been slaughtered in a bid to halt the outbreak - a number that could be dwarfed if the disease cannot be checked soon. During a disastrous 1967 foot-and-mouth epidemic, Britain's worst, nearly half a million sheep, pigs and cattle had to be killed.

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 spread it, carrying it on boots and clothing. The virus can be airborne, transmitted from one animal to another, or contracted through contaminated feed.

Distraught over losses that are already mounting into the millions, farmers filled troughs with disinfectant, spread piles of disinfected straw across roads leading to their land, and anxiously watched their herds for telltale blisters on the mouth and feet.

"It's not about money - it's about the tragedy as far animals are concerned," said farmer James McInness, chairman of a regional branch of the National Farmers' Union.

In a nation of animal lovers, burning carcasses and wholesale slaughter of herds - considered the only way to halt the virulent infection - distressed non-farmers as well.

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

So far, the disease has been found at 10 sites - confirmed Monday at three of them - and animals at hundreds of farms and slaughterhouses were being tested. Government veterinarians were working around the clock.

The outbreak was making increasing inroads into daily life. Tight travel restrictions have been clamped on affected areas. Plans for a major military exercise over the next two weeks were being reviewed because it would involve ground troops in one of the outbreak zones. Authorities even left some rural roads unplowed after heavy snow fell in Scotland for fear of spreading the virus.

At least three schools in affected areas closed and teachers who live on farms were told to stay home. City-dwellers and country people alike have been told to keep away from farmland. Hunting has been suspended, and a pro-hunting group postponed a planned mass march to the capital next month.

Hiking groups scrapped country walks, and fishing streams were closed to anglers. Restrictions were being considered on horse racing and show jumping. Safari parks, zoos and nature reserves were closing or keeping animals susceptible to the disease - including rhinos, giraffes and elephants - away from people.

Authorities closed three parks to the public to protect the royal deer herds, whose bloodlines date back to the time of Henry VIII. Even Prince Charles was taking extra precautions at his own farm, at Highgrove in western England.

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