Infected sheep moved across Britain

26 February 2001

Infected sheep moved across Britain

By Johann Tasker

SHEEP from an area of Northumberland engulfed in foot-and-mouth disease were taken to an infected farm in Devon two weeks ago, Farmers Weekly can reveal.

The sheep, which were taken to Burdon Farm, Highampton, were purchased from Hexham livestock market in Northumberland on 13 February.

They were transported 10 days before livestock movements were banned by the government on 23 February in a bid to stop foot-and-mouth disease spreading.

The animals were kept in lairage for two days in close quarters with other livestock before being moved on to Longtown, Carlisle, Cumbria.

Longtown market is one of the countrys biggest centres for selling sheep and serves farmers in Scotland as well as the north of England.

From Longtown, the sheep were taken to Highampton.

The 400-mile journey to Devon, and the fact that the sheep were in close contact with other animals, raises the possibility that more foot-and-mouth cases will be found.

Thousands of infected animals could have been unknowingly transported before the Devon farm was diagnosed with foot-and-mouth on Sunday (25 February).

There are 600 cattle and 1,500 sheep on the farm run by Willy Cleave who has a total of 13 premises, 11 of which are in Devon and two of which are in Cornwall.

Thousands of his sheep have been exported to France and experts are already investigated a suspected case of the disease at an abattoir on Anglesey, Wales.

Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) officials have confirmed that vehicles from Mr Cleaves farms travelled widely throughout Britain, particularly in Cumbria.

Until now, however, no firm link has been established between the Devon farm and the Northumberland region said to be the source of the outbreak.

The situation is made more serious because sheep suffering from foot-and-mouth disease are often more difficult to diagnose than cattle and pigs.

Farmers are beginning to think that unfortunately many more animals may have been infected and transported around the country than previously thought.

MAFF has urged all livestock farmers and keepers to check livestock every few hours in a desperate effort by the whole industry to control the disease.

Thousands of movement records are currently being checked by Ministry staff in the hope that the outbreak can be isolated and then exterminated.

The incubation period for the current strain of the virus is from three to eight days, but it can take the disease two to three weeks to run its course.

During that time, animals is highly infectious, causing a fever followed by the development of blisters or vesicles, usually in the mouth and on the feet.

But the symptoms in sheep are slightly different, making the disease harder to spot, raising the possibility that more outbreaks will be discovered.

Infected sheep may show acute lameness and may walk with a stiff-legged gate. Lesions may show but all symptoms may disappear after a few days.

However, the animals may still retain the disease. Little blisters may eventually appear around the coronary band, around the mouth and on the tongue.

Cattle, pigs, goats and deer are also highly susceptible, as are other wild and domestic cloven hoofed animals, including hedgehogs, rats and elephants.

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