10 March 2001
Remain vigilant on foot-and-mouth
by Alistair Driver
FARMER vigilance this weekend could hold the key to how far foot-and-mouth will spread as the number of new cases reaches record levels.
Twenty new outbreaks were confirmed on Friday (9 March) taking the total number of cases to 127 and making it the worst day since the crisis began.
Foot-and-mouth disease is very hard to detect in sheep and farmers this weekend are being urged to be extra careful when checking their animals.
In many of the new cases, it is believed that secondary infection was passed on from sheep on nearby farms in which disease was not spotted.
The news has dashed hopes that livestock movement restrictions imposed two weeks ago would mean that the number of outbreaks would have peaked by now.
Chief Veterinary Officer Jim Scudamore said he had no idea how many premises will become infected or when the UK will be clear of the disease.
“The question remains how many animals there are incubating the disease as a result of movement before February 23,” he said at briefing on Friday (9 March).
Mr Scudamore said the Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) still hadnt traced all sheep that came in contact with infected markets before restrictions were imposed.
“We do not know where all the sheep went,” he admitted.
MAFF particularly wants to hear from farmers who bought sheep outside the main auction ring at Longtown market, Cumbria, on 15 and 22 February.
Infected sheep were taken from Hexham market, Northumberland, to Longtown and then bought by Devon livestock dealer Willy Cleave.
The disease spread across the country as infected livestock came into contact with other animals at livestock markets, on farms and at abattoirs.
Mr Scudamore said he was becoming increasingly concerned about the rising number of foot-and-mouth cases resulting from secondary infection.
In this second wave of outbreaks, sheep infected before movement restrictions were imposed have been infecting cattle. Infection then spreads to nearby farms.
Mr Scudamore had hoped that the number of outbreaks would start dropping off after this weekend, two weeks after movement restrictions came in.
Theoretically, the number of outbreaks should have peaked by now because the maximum incubation period for the disease is also two weeks.
So far, that has shown no sign of happening.
MAFF has updated the list of symptoms to look out for in sheep, including sudden death in lambs after the virus claimed new-born animals about five farms.
Other symptoms are lameness, listlessness and animals being off food.