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FOOT-AND-MOUTH: Crisis will be much worse than 1967

by 5m Editor
15 March 2001, at 12:00am

SHEFFIELD, UK, 15 Mar. 2001 - As the spread of foot-and-mouth disease marches relentlessly on and the Agricultural minister confirms the precautionary slaughter of 100,000 sheep, Jim Muirhead, Editor of ThePigSite.com analyses the statistics of the current and 1967 outbreaks and concludes that the crisis is already worse than in 1967 with even more bad news to come.

Number of Outbreaks
(2001 End projected)
Animals Slaughtered
(2001 End projected)
Simple Maths

Some simple maths between the outbreaks of 1967 and 2001 show how much worse things are this time around.

In 1967 the first outbreak was identified on the 25th October. By June 1968 when the crisis was officially declared over the number of confirmed outbreaks was just above 2,364 and the number of animals slaughtered topped 442,000. This averages at 187 animals slaughtered per outbreak.

As of 14 March 2001 we are 23 days into the 2001 outbreak. The official number of confirmed cases is 233 and the number of animals either slaughtered or designated for slaughter tops 205,000. This averages 880 animals per outbreak, nearly five times the 1967 average.

Bigger farms

By comparison, on day 23 in 1967 there were 433 confirmed cases, nearly twice as many as today. Thus, although the corresponding number of cases is lower than in 1967, the greater number of animals on farms today mean that the corresponding number of animals slaughtered is much higher than 1967.

Back in 1967 the outbreak was restricted to a distinct part of the UK around Cheshire. This time the disease has spread throughout the UK with specific hot spots in Cumbria, Dumfries and Galloway and Devon. There are several million animals in these three areas alone, which gives an idea of the potential scale.

Sheep infecting cattle

The main problem with the current outbreak is that infected sheep are going undiagnosed. There are understandable reasons for this, foot-and-mouth is difficult to identify in sheep and the sheep with symptoms may initially be only a few among 1000's spread throughout 100's of acres of land. These sheep are passing the disease onto neighbouring cows, where the disease is eventually identified. But by then significant damage has been done. It is this process that is making it difficult to bring the outbreak fully under control.

Simply looking at the statistics again, if this outbreak follows a similar trajectory to that in 1967 we could expect half the number of cases and five times the devastation, or in numbers over 1100 outbreaks and 2 million animals slaughtered.

Unfortunately, this could be an optimistic view as the current outbreak is so much more extensive than in 1967.

Pigs

There is also another factor in all this; Pigs. Fortunately, this outbreak has to date remained in sheep and cattle which create only a limited wind borne exposure. Should the disease spread to pigs there is a greatly increased risk of the disease spreading on the wind. One quote made recently was that "one pigs breath can infect up to 2 million cattle". Should the disease migrate into the the outdoor pig herd control really would be lost and those consequences are unthinkable.

All this does not even consider the fact the disease has spread to France, and the consequences that may have for Europe.

Time Frame

The 1967 outbreak lasted for just over 7 months and brought Cheshire to a standstill. Given it is likely this outbreak will be just as severe it seems reasonable to assume the disease might not be formally eradicated much before Christmas.


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