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England finds foot and mouth disease in cattle

  • Story Highlights
  • Foot and mouth disease found on farm near Guildford in Surrey, England
  • Virus poses almost no threat to humans
  • Prime Minister Gordon Brown calls meeting of United Kingdom's crisis panel
  • Nearly 2,000 cases of foot and mouth disease found during 2001 epidemic
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Foot and mouth disease has been found in cattle on a farm near Guildford in Surrey, England, British government officials said Friday, prompting Prime Minister Gordon Brown to call a meeting of the United Kingdom's crisis panel.

A farmworker disinfects a truckload of carcasses of cattle slaughtered in England's 2001 foot and mouth epidemic.

The virus poses almost no threat to humans, but it diminishes animals' productivity and ruins export markets.

The virus showed up in lab results Friday, Britain's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said.

The farm has been under restrictions since late Thursday, when symptoms were reported to a local animal health office, DEFRA said. All cattle on the premises will be culled in accordance with the law.

Brown is returning to London Saturday morning "to chair a COBRA meeting in the cabinet office. Our top priority is to prevent the spread of this disease in order to protect farmers' stocks," Downing Street said.

The COBRA Committee, which stands for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A, is the United Kingdom's emergency response team for national crises.

The plans created in the aftermath of the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak are well-tested and established, and are being followed diligently, Brown's office said.

Six years ago, nearly 2,000 cases of foot and mouth disease were found. At the epidemic's height, the average was 40 new cases a day. More than 3.5 million sheep, cows and pigs were slaughtered in a bid to contain the disease.

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A protection zone of 3 kilometers (nearly 2 miles) has been established around the affected farm, along with a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) surveillance zone. In those zones, the movement of animals, animal products, feed and bedding is prohibited except under license, DEFRA said, but it added that this is an animal health measure rather than a public health measure.

Foot and mouth disease crosses the species barrier from cattle to human only with very great difficulty, the DEFRA statement said. The last human case reported in Britain occurred in 1966. The disease in humans, in the very rare cases that have occurred, is mild, short-lived and requires no medical treatment. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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