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Foot-and-mouth: UK man feared ill

LONDON, England -- Health officials in Britain are anxiously awaiting test results to see if a slaughterman has caught foot-and-mouth disease.

If blood test results due out Wednesday confirm the disease, the farm worker will be the first human to contract foot-and-mouth during the current epidemic.

The slaughterman had been putting down livestock in Cumbria, one of the areas of Britain worst affected by the outbreak.

He has developed ulcers in the mouth and sore, itchy hands - the classic symptoms of the disease that rarely affects humans.

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He became ill two weeks after he was accidentally sprayed with some material from a cow.

The only other confirmed human case of the disease was diagnosed during the major UK outbreak of 1967.

Bobby Brewis, 34, a farm machinery salesman living on a farm in Yetlington, Northumbria, was then reported to have had only "indirect" contact with livestock.

Brewis developed a mild temperature, a sore throat and blisters on the palms of his hands. He also developed weals on his tongue.

Brewis was reported as saying at the time: "It was rather like flu. I just felt a bit groggy."

A spokeswoman for the Public Health Laboratory Service stressed: "Cases of foot-and-mouth in humans are extremely rare.

"When you consider how many people have been exposed to the virus during the exercise to contain and eradicate it, it shows that the virus is not very good at affecting humans."

She said that when humans did contract foot-and-mouth, it was a very mild illness, which invariably cleared up within a matter of weeks.

She added: "In terms of humans it's not a big public health issue, which is judged by the number of cases there have been."

The spokeswoman said that it had been alerted to six previous suspected human cases of foot-and-mouth since the beginning of the outbreak -- but tests had proved negative each time.

Cancer fears over livestock pyres

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's office was quick to try to draw a distinction between the dangers faced by slaughtermen and tourists.

"The position of a slaughterman is different from a tourist. They are handling animals which are infected. (This case) should not be allowed to affect tourism," a spokesman for the prime minister said.

Toxicologists are also warning the burning of livestock carcasses on pyres pose a cancer risk to humans.

Bonfires had been considered one of the more efficient ways of disposing of the carcasses, but now there is mounting concern about the health risk from dioxins.

A government funded report by Britain's national environmental technology centre - which carried out a study on the environmental impact of the burning - estimates over a six week period the fires released the dangerous cancer-causing dioxins into the atmosphere.

The report estimates the fires released more than two-thirds of the dioxins produced by British industry in a year. Michael Warhurst, of environmental group Friends of the Earth, said : "It looks as if they (the government) have been more interested in the fastest and cheapest method rather than the most effective method.

Michael Meacher, British Environment Minister, said: "There is no alternative in disposal that is totally risk free.

"We are concerned to use the safest and most effective form of disposal and certainly public health is a very serious consideration for us - we are certainly not complacent about this.

The British government says it plans to issue public health guidelines "in the coming days" as to the best forms of disposals for animals and for public health.

The government maintains the number of new cases of foot-and-mouth continues to fall, but is not predicting the disease will be eliminated in Britain in the near future.



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RELATED SITES:
Department of Health
UK Ministry of Agriculture
Foot-and-Mouth Disease

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