Mass culling for foot-and-mouth 'may be unnecessary'

The mass cull of farm animals to control the spread of foot-and-mouth disease may be unnecessary if there is a new outbreak, scientists suggest.

A new analysis of disease transmission suggests that future outbreaks might be controlled by early detection and killing only affected animals.

The scientists said their findings did not suggest the mass slaughter policy during the 2001 UK outbreak was wrong.

The research, by a UK team, is reported in the journal Science.

Until now, vets had assumed animals could be infectious while they carried the virus that causes foot-and-mouth, which may be for between four and eight days.

However, by exposing calves to infected cattle and closely monitoring them, researchers from the Institute for Animal Health in Surrey and Edinburgh University discovered that the period of infection was less than two days.

Perhaps more importantly, the researchers also discovered that animals were not infectious until they showed symptoms of the disease.

Scientists had previously thought animals were infectious for hours or even days before manifesting any symptoms.

These results suggest that any future outbreak could be brought under control by closely monitoring animals and slaughtering them as soon as they become ill.

This approach is in contrast to the policy adopted to bring the 2001 epidemic under control.

More on BBC website

Story in Guardian

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