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UK foot and mouth outbreak under control

The British foot and mouth epidemic appears to be over. The last recorded outbreak was on 30 September, says Massey University’s Professor Roger Morris, and intensive surveillance has so far not detected any hidden pockets of infection.

The Director of the Massey EpiCentre says there were a number of lessons for New Zealand in how the outbreak was managed. “We need effective surveillance to detect an outbreak promptly, constant preparedness; the need to have systems like EpiMAN in place to manage the situation and analyse trends; and the ability to fly in trained people from other countries to help us if a major outbreak was to occur.

“The fundamental problem in the British outbreak was that the disease was very widespread before it was diagnosed, because it was not detected for 3 to 4 weeks after it started. Response systems were not as well developed as in New Zealand, and the management of data was not good until late in the piece. The epidemic started on 20 February and by late March over half of the final total of 2030 farms had already become infected. But the epidemic ran on for six more months before it was halted. A more effective initial response system would have reduced the total scale of the epidemic.

“New Zealand needs better disease surveillance systems to detect an outbreak quickly, and then move promptly with our response. The New Zealand Government response to the UK outbreak has so far concentrated only on border control measures and publicity. There has been no enhancement of our detection and response capability, which are the real key to averting a national disaster when our border controls are breached, as they have been on a growing number of occasions. We have seen repeatedly in recent years that our worst problems creep up on us undetected over several years, and we have repeatedly had to abandon eradication efforts because our surveillance systems were allowed to run down during the 1990s and failed to detect disease incursions early. We need to learn that lesson, and rebuild our ability to detect incursions rapidly.”

Professor Morris says he is very pleased with the performance of the EpiCentre-designed EpiMAN software that accurately tracked and predicted the spread of the disease. Professor Morris and staff from the EpiCentre were involved in the foot and mouth control team, working both in the UK and in New Zealand analysing data.

He says the epidemic showed an unusual pattern between May and the end of August, which was attributed to people failing to take precautions and undertaking illegal, high-risk movements of livestock. A tightening of restrictions by the British Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs saw the number of outbreaks decline rapidly.

“We always predicted it would be eradicated between July and October. We estimated initially that there would be around 1800 to 1900 farms affected, which we adjusted upward in light of the illegal movements to predict that just over 2000 farms would be affected. Our analysis also showed that there was a one in five chance that it would go over 3000 farms if the epidemic was allowed to grumble on.

A total of 2030 cases of foot and mouth were reported, but over 7,000 additional high-risk farms were partly or fully slaughtered out to control the epidemic.


Contact: Rachel Donald on 021 343 308.

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