Tests have indicated that the latest foot and mouth outbreak in Surrey, England, is of the same strain as one located at a laboratory four miles from the infected farm - it is a 01 BFS67-like virus, isolated in the 1967 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Great Britain. Authorities are now focusing their investigation on how the virus may have escaped from there. The facility researches foot and mouth and manufactures a vaccine. The research facility is shared by a company called Merial Animal Health and the Institute for Animal Health, a government body.

Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, says all signs point to a good chance that this outbreak may be stopped in its tracks.

Experts immediately started a review of biosecurity measures in the laboratory. Government facilities as well as Merial Animal Health are being inspected.

Gordon Brown said "The first thing, having identified a possible source of the disease, we must now look at the transmission mechanism. We are looking intensively at what's happened on this site." By strengtheing security measures in the immediate vicinity, the Prime Minister said he hoped the disease can be contained.

Authorities say no animals have come in or out of the affected farm since July 10. This is good news as it significantly reduces the chances that the disease may have spread outside. Four neighboring farms have been given the all-clear after veterinary inspections took place on Friday evening.

What is Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD)?

FMD is an infectious disease which sickens cloven-hoofed animals, especially cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and deer. The disease is serious for animal health and the economic welfare of the farming (livestock) industry. Even though FMD is not typically fatal for adult animals, its consequences on loss of output can be dreadful. FMD can cause milk yields to plummet and animals frequently become lame. FMD can be deadly and on a large scale for young animals.

The after-effects of FMD are serious. Affected animals lose condition and are particularly at risk of bacterial infections. A dairy cow is much more prone to suffer from chronic mastitis, which permanently reduces the value of the cow. Animals which recover from FMD are much more likely to be infertile.

FMD is Caused by a Virus

FMD is caused by a virus of which there are 7 main types. These types can only be differentiated in the laboratory, as their symptoms are identical - fever, followed by blisters (vesicles) mainly in the mouth and feet.

The seven main virus types are: O, A, C, SAT.1, SAT.2, SAT.3 and Asia 1 - each type has subtypes. The average incubation period is between three to eight days - it has been known to be shorter and as long as 14 days. The UK 2001 outbreak was the pan-Asiatic O type.

An animal that recovers from one virus type is not protected against infection from any of the other types.

How does Foot and Mouth Spread?

Enormous numbers of the virus are present in the fluid of the blisters, and to a certain extent in saliva, milk and dung. Any objects that come into contact with the blister fluids are a serious danger to other healthy animals. At its peak, FMD is present in the blood.

Before symptoms begin animals start excreting the virus. Pig's dung can be especially contaminated.

Under favorable conditions, the disease can spread through the air for a considerable distance.

Animals become infected either as a result of direct contact with a sick animal or by contact with foodstuffs, dead carcasses, or touching anything a sick animals has touched.

With intensive farming these days animals are transported long distances and rapidly. This movement of animals and vehicles can accelerate the speed and distance of FMD spread. Even the roads themselves can become contaminated, increasing the risk that other vehicles pick them up.

How Widespread is Foot and Mouth Disease?

FMD is endemic in many parts of Asia, South America and Africa. In 2001 the UK, Eire (Ireland), France and the Netherlands had outbreaks of FMD.

Can Humans Get FMD?

According to the UK Department of Health, human infection of FMD is extremely rare. The only recorded human case in the UK was in 1966 - symptoms were similar to influenza (flu), plus some blisters and were fairly mild. There is a human condition, known as Hand Foot and Mouth disease, which is unrelated to FMD, and does not affect animals.

-- More about foot-and-mouth in England can be found here
-- Interactive map, showing restricted zones after this outbreak
-- Merial Animal Health
-- Institute for Animal Health

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