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Sunday, 19 August, 2001, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
Control breaches 'prolong farm disease'
Cows
The disease will be harder to tackle in the cold weather
Foot-and-mouth disease has continued longer than expected because strict movement restrictions and hygiene rules have been breached, say experts.

There are also warnings that the crisis will be harder to control in the poorer weather of autumn and winter if the disease is not eradicated.

Epidemiologist Dr Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College, London, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that predictions the epidemic would be over by October were meaningless if security measures were not imposed more vigorously.


The very fact that we are getting ongoing transmission means that the controls really aren't working

Dr Neil Ferguson
He said the predictions were based on "an assumption that two very important controls would stay constant - bio-security measures on farms and movement controls and restrictions".

Animal movement and land access restrictions have been lifted in some parts of the country - to the relief of many in the badly hit tourist industry.

But trading standards officers have already expressed concern that checks in disease hotspots showed some farmers were ignoring disinfection procedures.

Rapid decline

A clampdown at the start of August in North Yorkshire revealed more than 150 breaches in the Thirsk "bio-security" zone within a week of new rules being imposed.

A new security zone was also imposed in Cumbria because of the risk of the disease returning to areas given the all-clear.

Disease facts
Total: 1,960
New cases Sunday: 0
Slaughtered: 3,750,000
Awaiting slaughter: 20,000
Awaiting disposal: 9,000

Dr Ferguson said the epidemic declined faster than expected in April, partly because of the increased enforcement of restrictions.

"Unfortunately, what happened in May was that, for natural reasons, restrictions had to be lifted in areas where the infection had not yet been detected, particularly in North Yorkshire and Lancashire," he said.

"Unfortunately, infection had reached those areas. That caused the infection to re-establish itself."

He said new infections had been effectively suppressed by culling but the relaxation of security measures meant new outbreaks were continuing.

Wet weather warning

Roger Morris, professor of animal health at Massey University in New Zealand, told Today the epidemic could drag on into the winter.

He has tracked the outbreak since it began in February and used computer models in March to predict that it would finally affect 1,900 farms and end between July and October.

Disinfection procedures
Some people have not carried out proper disinfection
There have now been 1,960 cases since February, with 3,750,000 animals slaughtered.

Professor Morris told Today: "Our concern at this stage is that the number of new outbreaks per day has not declined as we would have expected in the later stage of the epidemic.

"If the outbreak continues, through into the cold, wet weather, it is considerably harder to totally eradicate the virus.

"I would like to see the disease eradicated over the next couple of months, if possible, to avoid this risk."

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