http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/debate/letters/article2525010.eceFromSeptember 25, 2007
The Government must listen to the specialists
Sir, Those of us who have a professional interest in viral disease have watched the events unfold since early August with a terrible fear of déjà vu (report, Sept 24). This fear is now realised.
Putting aside the mechanisms that have allowed foot and mouth into the Surrey countryside, which are subject to inquiry, I and my colleagues have a real concern that at every level - diagnosis, tracing and containment - once again the handling of this infection has been an illustration of a woeful lack of understanding within Defra of viral disease. As a result, once again, there has been unnecessary destruction of life and livelihoods.
If we had started a thorough ring vaccination programme on August 10, when the onset of infection in the second affected herd was obviously so sudden that a large amount of virus was now within the countryside, the outbreaks in other herds would not have occurred. Defra's lack of policy applies also to bluetongue serotype 8 which has arrived in Suffolk but has been an expected threat to the UK for at least 12 months. If discussions with vaccine manufacturers had taken place at that time indicating a willingness to vaccinate against this disease, they would have encouraged vaccine development and farming stock would be protected.
It is quite extraordinary to report that there are no virologists within Defra. This is contrary to a reply given to the Countess of Mar's question in the House of Lords when the Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer (DCVO) replied that there were more than 100.
There is a lack of understanding within the vet labs' scientists of the mechanisms of clinical containment of viral disease. Vaccination of the susceptible population so that more than 70 per cent were so protected would ensure that the disease died out.
There is a failure to use newer techniques of nucleic acid amplification (RT-PCR) to detect the virus in pre-clinical stages in animals. This is a much more sensitive surveillance than veterinary clinical inspection or the penside crude antigen test that has been made for the Third World which Defra has sanctioned although it is of unverified sensitivity.
It may be helpful to the Prime Minister's Cobra group to read Mary Critchley's voluntary website www.warmwell.com, to which a number of us contribute. The group should invite the most informed virologists with clinical experience to join their team and formulate sensible policies to contain this disease.
At the same time it needs to lobby the EU to change the rules about vaccinated stock. These rules take no account of the virological science and so create a bias against vaccination. This no-vaccination view is promoted by a few exporters for short-term reasons. The British are subscribing to EU rules that virologists and informed vets consider to be ill-informed. It would be better to solve the problem with good science and then lobby for change in Brussels. A lack of coherent virological advice from the CVO and DCVO makes matters worse.
Here is a way for Cobra to gain clinical advice and formulate sensible policies. Defra must be encouraged (forced?) to collect clinical advice from outside the citadel walls. Its present activity is an absolute travesty.
DR COLIN G. FINK, Micropathology Ltd Coventry
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