Issue Date: August 13, 2007
"THERE IS A STRONG PROBABILITY" that the latest outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in the U.K. was caused by pathogens originating in a research site shared by the U.K.'s government-owned Institute for Animal Health (IAH) and Merial, the animal health joint venture of Merck and Sanofi-Aventis.
That is the conclusion of the initial report on potential breaches of biosecurity at the site, conducted by the U.K.'s Health & Safety Executive (HSE).
The outbreak of the highly contagious animal disease, first confirmed on Aug. 3, is the first in six years. In 2001, an FMD outbreak in the U.K. stretched over much of the country, causing an estimated $16 billion in damage to the British economy. This time, though, the disease is localized, confirmed at two farms and being investigated at a third within 10 miles of the long-established Pirbright research site, about 30 miles southwest of London.
IAH is the U.K.'s leading authority on FMD and is a world reference laboratory on FMD for the International Office of Epizootic Diseases and the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Merial produces FMD vaccines at the site.
The HSE report, published on Aug. 7, confirmed that IAH was working on a series of small-scale experiments, each less than 10 mL, of the FMD strain O1BFS67, the strain identified in the new outbreak. In addition, Merial had produced 10,000 L of vaccine containing that strain. HSE concluded that there was a "strong probability" that the disease outbreak originated from the Pirbright site.
For now, Paul Logan, lead investigator for the HSE team, says "there is no reason to prevent IAH from operating, providing that all the usual biosecurity protocols are followed rigorously."
Logan, however, is concerned about biosecurity at Merial's labs, where "the situation is less clear-cut." His team was concerned, in particular, about the integrity of the lab's drainage system, including pipework leading to the final effluent treatment plant.
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