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The BBC's Neil Bennett
"He was accidentally sprayed by material from one of the carcasses"
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Michael Meacher, Environment Minister
"We have to wait and get a full and complete assessment from the Department of Health"
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Bill Morris, TGWU general secretary
"This man must have some question of emotional distress"
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Monday, 23 April, 2001, 21:30 GMT 22:30 UK
Human 'may have foot-and-mouth'
The man came in contact with animal material
The Department of Health is investigating a report that a contract worker in Cumbria may have contracted the foot-and-mouth virus.

If confirmed, the case would be only the second ever recorded in this country, although experts say the illness is only mild in humans, and that no cases of human to human transmission have ever been recorded.

The man is a temporary contract worker employed by Maff to assist with the culling of animals.

The reports add to fears over human health in relation to the crisis - with concerns over the release of carcinogenic dioxins from animal pyres.

Environment minister Michael Meacher conceded that the pyres could be a health risk.

Dr Peter Tiplady
Dr Peter Tiplady said the man was not unwell
The patient, from west Cumbria, had been heavily involved in the culling operation currently underway in the region, and as such was in regular, close contact with infected animals.

Dr Peter Tiplady, of North Cumbria Health Authority, said: "The man was accidentally sprayed with some material from a cow, and two weeks later developed symptoms similar to that in the animals - ulcers in the mouth and sore, itchy hands.

"It is not a very serious illness. He is not at all unwell, and we expect him to make a complete recovery."

Scientific advice is that it is highly improbable for the virus to pass from animals into the human population under any other circumstances, so the general population is not at risk.

Animal virus

Bobby Brewis: 1966 case
Angus Nichol, director of the communicable diseases surveillance unit of the Public Health Laboratory Service, said: "Basically this is an animal virus - it doesn't like human beings.

"If you expose someone to massive amounts of the virus, they may get the disease, but they probably won't."

He said that when humans did contract foot-and-mouth, it was a very mild illness for them, which invariably cleared up within a matter of weeks.

It would be transmitted through close contact between individuals and animals who are infected

Professor Tony Hart, University of Liverpool
However, a spokesman for the Department of Health said that it was aware of the case, and that the worker in question had "all the symptoms" of the illness.

A spokesman said: "Foot-and-mouth in humans is very rare but it can occur - this case is being investigated urgently.

"However, foot-and-mouth is a mild illness in humans."

Officials said that the case would not be confirmed for at least 48 hours, when the results of blood tests would be returned.

The symptoms are similar to another virus - hand, foot and mouth - which is completely unrelated.

The previous single human case in the UK was during the 1966 outbreak. The patient suffered no long-lasting effects to his health.

'Very rare'

Dr Tony Hart
Dr Tony Hart said most people were not at risk
Professor Tony Hart, an expert in infectious diseases at the University of Liverpool, told the BBC: "Foot-and-mouth is predominantly a disease of animals, which, on very rare occasions is transmitted to humans.

"I imagine it would be transmitted through close contact between individuals and animals who are infected."

He said he was not aware of any other case in which a human, having picked up the infection, passed it onto another human.

If you expose someone to massive amounts of the virus, they may get the disease, but they probably won't

Dr Angus Nichol, PHLS
However, he said that it was possible that an infected human could pass the virus onto animals - which are far more susceptible to infection.

He said: "One can never say there is no danger but there have been no cases reported."

A spokesman for the PHLS said that it had been alerted to several suspected human cases of foot-and-mouth since the beginning of the outbreak - but tests for the virus had proved negative in each of them.

A spokesman said that human foot-and-mouth was "not a big public health issue".

He told BBC News Online: "Although we are keeping a lookout for this kind of thing, it really is vanishingly rare.

"Another explanation for this illness is the most likely answer."

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See also:

23 Apr 01 | Health
'A mild and transient disease'
23 Apr 01 | Health
Human foot-and-mouth: The history
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