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Monday, 23 April, 2001, 21:25 GMT 22:25 UK
'A mild and transient disease'
Bobby Brewis
Bobby Brewis suffered from adverse publicity
When Bobby Brewis was found to have the last confirmed case of human foot-and-mouth disease in the UK he became a minor celebrity.

As a second suspected human case is investigated in Cumbria 35 years on, BBC News Online's Finlo Rohrer speaks to the family of the doctor who initially diagnosed Mr Brewis in Rothbury, Northumberland, as they remember the media glare.

Dr Rex Armstrong, whose ancestors had been medics in Northumberland since the Civil War, was the first to examine the weals and sores of Bobby Brewis in 1966.

But by the time the final tests confirmed his suspicions of a rare human case of foot-and-mouth, the patient's symptoms had all but disappeared.

It was a very mild disease, there, transient and gone in a few days

Dr Angus Armstrong
His son Angus is a doctor at the same surgery in Rothbury, now only miles from current foot-and-mouth outbreaks at Morpeth and Kirkwhelpington.

Dr Armstrong admitted that his father became something of a minor celebrity, although Mr Brewis' celebrity had unfortunate consequences.

He told BBC News Online: "The publicity that went with it was a disaster, [Mr Brewis] lost his job and everything as a result.

Disease mystery

"He was an agricultural machinery salesman and no-one wanted him on their farms - I think he became a chef in Sunderland.

"He was an interesting character, a jolly chap, but foolishly let it be known that he had it."

Dr Armstrong said that the cause of Mr Brewis' illness had remained a mystery as, although a cow had had the disease on the farm he was staying on, he had only watched the slaughter from a distance.

The 1966 outbreak affected villages around Rothbury
Lord Lambton, MP at the time of the Rothbury outbreak, wrote in a recent letter to the Daily Telegraph that it was said Mr Brewis had initially fainted upon hearing the news as he feared he would be shot.

Dr Rex Armstrong's knowledge became prized in the aftermath of the case, with contributions to the British Medical Journal.

His son added: "He was the only person who had seen it at that stage, it was only one case and by the time the blood tests came back, it was better.

Royal commission

"It was a very mild disease, there, transient and gone in a few days.

"They had a Royal commission about it afterwards and my father had to go down and give evidence - there was great excitement."

He said the 1966 outbreak had "shattered the community" in the same way the current outbreak had.

"Now it is the sort of nightmare you can't imagine and there seems a nasty inevitability about it."


Dr Armstrong said much had remained the same since the 1880s when his great-grandfather chaired a privy council meeting on the disease which first recommended a slaughter policy and compensation.

Dr Rex Armstrong's daughter Elspeth Lewis, 16 at the time, still remembers the excitement surrounding her father after the case was diagnosed.

"At the time it was very exciting for us because he was on the radio a lot and going to Westminster.

"He was up and down to Pirbright, he had a lot of dealings with our MP, Lord Lambton."

Farmers' concern

But though he went through the now familiar precautions to avoid spreading foot-and-mouth to animals, Dr Armstrong remained unconcerned by the remote risk to humans.

Mrs Lewis remembered local farmers were also more concerned by the danger to their livelihoods than to their health.

"The problem was that Bobby Brewis lived on a farm - a lot of the farmers were pretty anxious.

"He was pretty ostracised and he eventually had to move away."

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23 Apr 01 | Health
Human foot-and-mouth: The history
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