Learn how to diagnose F&M

12 October 2001

Learn how to diagnose F&M

By Hannah Velten

PRODUCERS must be educated to diagnose foot-and-mouth to free up vet manpower and they must also be involved in reducing disease spread by changing their attitude to basic bio-security, say vets.

Addressing delegates at the BVA Congress in Winchester, DEFRA chief vet officer Jim Scudamore expressed cautious optimism that F&M was under control after five days without a case. "But there could be undisclosed disease within the sheep population and virus could still move out of a remaining hotspot," he warned.

He described the outbreak as massive, with 12 major centres and many widely spread branches. Compared with the 1967 outbreak, this F&M crisis did not reach the same peak of cases, but the tail of the disease has continued for longer, with five major smaller outbreaks. "Most virus spread via local movements of people and vehicles," he added.

The outbreak is still believed to have started in Northumberland, caused by a virus imported into the country, although from where is unknown. Questioned about the need to strengthen import controls, he said: "Legal imports must comply with EU regulation and pose minimal risks, yet illegal import controls must be questioned.

"Risk analysis must be implemented to assess the risk of disease spread from country to country. Could it be blue tongue next year?"

Mr Scudamore said planning must be based on worst-case scenarios when drawing up a contingency plan for dealing with another disease outbreak.

The French chief vet officer, Isabelle Chmitelin, agreed. "Although in 1991 we discussed a contingency plan for F&M, we found ourselves with the unusual scenario of disease bought in from the UK, so we had to adapt to the situation rapidly."

Another problem France faced was the lack of a global animal identification system. "Although we were able to trace imported stocks first destination, it was difficult to follow their later movements."

Initial responses to F&M in the UK were hampered by the lack of vet resources, resulting in unsupervised slaughterings, a lack of serology testing and restricted communication and admin services, admitted Mr Scudamore.

"We must be able to identify and draw more vets in when needed and bleeding and cleaning should be done by non-vets under vet control." He also expressed the need to look into alternative diagnostic techniques for mass use.

Stewart Renton, a practising vet, suggested farm and companion animal vets were re-educated to identify aural lesions. "Time must also be spent educating and training producers to recognise disease themselves, allowing more vet manpower to deal with reported cases rather than patrolling to diagnose cases.

"In future, it would also be beneficial for vets to use their practical experience for decisions on contiguous culling," he added.

A cultural change must occur in producers attitudes, particularly towards basic bio-security, added VLA epidemiologist John Wilesmith. "Producers must be involved in the control of disease."

Part of future contingency plans would look at the best way to control disease, either by slaughter or vaccination. Dr Scudamore insisted that vaccination was always considered as an option.

Had France had 10-12 outbreaks instead of two, vaccination would probably have been implemented because of the social impact of slaughter, added Dr Chmitelin.

The Environment Agencys director of operations, Archie Robertson, hinted that vaccination should be included in future contingency plans. "Landfill and burial are the least popular way of disposing carcasses from our point of view. Top of our list is the need to minimise waste, which means reducing the number of carcasses in the first place." &#42


&#8226 Producers involvement in control.

&#8226 Vaccination best method?

&#8226 Tighter import legislation.

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