A letter from Colin G Fink B.Sc.,MB.,Ph.D.,FRCPath from early in the 2001 outbreak.
Re F& M matters
Thank you for telephoning me and for giving me the update on the events on the farm near Exmoor. It is a matter of some concern that MAAF have so little understanding of the regulations on which they rely. I can assure you that they have even less understanding of the virology which is so essential for any sensible policy applied to the present problem. I was quite surprised to hear from Mr Fred Landeg at Page Street that he clearly did not know the difference between a protein and nucleic acid. As he seems to be the power at MAAF at least coordinating if not making policy for people in the field his unfortunate failure to grasp the basics is not reassuring.
As you know I started to apply some three weeks ago to MAAF for some fixed ( non infectious) virus or some extracted nucleic acid ( RNA) from the F & M virus currently causing the infection, so that we might develop a rapid, specific and highly sensitive viral assay. This has been of concern for a number of reasons:
1 MAAF and the Vet agency at Pirbright are not routinely using this type of assay (probably not using it at all) to detect infection in the herds. They have not undertaken any survey of the culled animals and so we have no assessment of the extent of the infection nor any understanding of its natural history within an animal measured by this state-of-the-art assay to see viremia in the blood or oro-pharyngeal infection from mouth swabs. This is a catastrophic loss of opportunity to gain basic knowledge and is entirely consistent with their retained medieval approach to the whole problem. As my colleague Professor Fred Brown said "it is an unacceptable loss of animals without justification"
2 We have been approached by many individuals and also several major agencies in the UK who do not trust MAAF and its approach and wish to have access to independent testing of the herds. This is because of a fear of residual low level infection and also to have sound virological information available in case of a cull order.
3 The availability of the exquisitely sensitive assay in independent hands will enable us to undertake some of the field work that MAAF have failed to do and we will latterly be able to supply decent information for epidemiologists to use. Whilst we may be too late for the UK , in this outbreak, the establishment of a good assay will put the UK ahead (at least in the private sector) to offer this service for Europe as required. At the meeting held at the CLA on April 24th Lindsay Harris a MAAF policy spokesman agreed to arrange contacts for me to ensure a supply of fixed virus. No contact on his instigation has taken place. At the meeting on the same day under the Chairmanship of the Countess of Mar at the House of Lords, Dr Paul Kitching Head of the Exotic disease Ref. Lab at Pirbright agreed to supply fixed material but indicated that clearance from Fred Landeg at Page Street was required. I have had contact with Fred Landeg who has raised objection under the Specified Animal Pathogen Order 1998. I have made it clear to him that this is not relevant to fixed (uninfectious) nucleic acid or fixed virus to develop our assay. His objection to potential infection of posted specimens also does not stand up because we would supply material to render any sample fixed and also supply safe carriage and packing as we do on a day to day basis for receipt of human pathogenic material.
I do hope that this gives you some useful information. You are most welcome to send this letter to any party.
Colin G Fink B.Sc.,MB.,Ph.D.,FRCPath Virological Scientist and Physician for the company