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The VeterinaryJournal

The Veterinary Journal xxx (2004) xxx–xxx

Guest editorial

Foot-and-mouth disease: the vital need for collaboration as an aid to disease elimination

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is endemic in many parts of the world and "globalisation" has ensured that those countries with FMD-free status are increasingly at risk of occasional viral introductions – even if they take active measures to prevent such incursions. In countries such as the United Kingdom, which maintain FMD-free status without prophylactic vaccination, a "stamping out" policy (i.e. killing the host) is the current means of dealing with occasional introductions of the FMD virus (FMDV).

Following the experience of the 2001 FMD epidemic in the UK, emergency vaccination "to live" has become an important aspect of future contingency planning. With a stamping out policy alone it is usual to kill ani­mals with all speed on infected premises (IPs) where dis­ease has been diagnosed on either clinical grounds or from positive laboratory testing. Livestock regarded as dangerous contacts (DCs) on the basis of epidemiologi­cal tracing are also killed. Movement restrictions and strict biosecurity are additional key features of control measures.

Throughout an epidemic accurate data collection and analysis is crucial, particularly so if any type of model­ling is to form part of the decision making process. For all three aspects (data collection, analysis and com-puter-based simulations) close collaborative effort is re­quired to provide the best scientific approach to elimination of disease. During the 2001 FMD epidemic, census data were inaccurate and the collection and anal­ysis of field data were imperfect. Mathematical models were developed during the course of the epidemic, partly as a substitute for poor information, but also because the early indications were that the FMD contingency plan was inadequate (Taylor, 2003). It is, however, important to emphasise that many of the perceived problems in the early stages resulted from the lag be­tween introduction of FMDV into the UK and recogni­tion of its presence. Estimates vary, but Mansley et al. (2003) concluded that 79 premises had been exposed to FMD infection before confirmation of the disease on the 20th February 2001. Haydon et al. (2003) suggested that many premises (from <30 to >80) may have actu­ally been infected by 20th February and a further 40 might have become infected before the introduction of the national movement ban on February 23rd. Gibbens and Wilesmith (2002) and Alexanderson et al. (2003) postulated that infection could have been present in the UK from late January 2001.

The background to the 2001 FMD epidemic is that on February 19th 2001, FMD was suspected in pigs at an abattoir in Essex and confirmed the following day as the sub-type O PanAsiatic strain of FMDV. The ori­gin of the infected pigs was identified as a pig farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall, Northumberland on February 22nd where detailed examination of the pigs on Febru­ary 24th revealed FMD lesions that were adjudged to be at least 12 days old (Mansley et al., 2003). Precisely how the FMD virus reached this pig farm has not been identified, although untreated pig swill has been implicated.

On February 23rd the disease was confirmed on a mixed sheep and beef cattle farm at Ponteland, some 5 km from Heddon-on-the-Wall; the oldest FMD lesions (estimated to be nine days old on February 25th) were found on a heifer, but serum samples taken from 226 of 355 sheep on the same day indicated that four were antibody positive and eight were virus positive (Mansley et al., 2003).

Movement of sheep to market from the Ponteland farm and subsequent dealing raised the possibility that multiple livestock movements might have already dis­seminated infection widely by the time of disease confir­mation on February 20th. These fears were realised by the detection of disease in several new areas as far south as Devon within a week of the original confirmation of disease on the 22nd February. Subsequent short range modelling of the wind-borne spread of the prevalent strain of the virus indicated that infected pigs at Heddon-on-the-Wall might have excreted sufficient virus to infect livestock on the farm in Ponteland (Gloster et al., 2003).

In this brief historical introduction the complexities of the field situation are fully realised – unknown origin and date of viral introduction; undefined viral character­istics; weather conditions that favoured virus survival; potential spread prior to identification of the index case by, for instance, animals, people, equipment and vehi­cles; possible airborne transmission; and involvement of numerous animals of different species and susceptibil­ities in widely varying regions of the UK. Complex bio­logical situations of this type do not lend themselves to an intra-epidemic mathematical modelling approach, particularly when such models are invariably built on a number of assumptions, some of which may be inaccu­rate. In a comprehensive review of the use of models in informing disease control policy, Taylor (2003) con­cluded with respect to FMD control that ‘‘tactical deci­sion making should be based more on real veterinary intelligence than on predictive modelling’’.

In this issue of The Veterinary Journal, Kitching, Hutber and Thrusfield (Kitching et al., 2004), examine some of the clinical and epidemiological factors that are of relevance in predictive modelling. The authors stress the importance of farm level analysis, focusing on intra-herd transmission as the starting point for any FMD model. The within-herd parameter of first day incidence (FDI) 1 and regional analysis using the in-ter-herd parameter of first fortnight incidence (FFI) 2 have the merit of being directly measurable. Using these parameters it is possible to predict prevalence, to model within farm infectivity and regional spread and to high­light the differences between species with some accuracy. Control policies can then be targeted more effectively if, for example, large dairy farms demonstrate high FDI and FFI.

During the 2001 epidemic in Cumbria, dairy farms faced a five-times greater risk of infection than other farms (Taylor et al., 2001) and yet sheep were the species most intensively slaughtered. It would seem that host species differences were not taken fully into account and the risk factors were imperfectly modelled. The 3­km pre-emptive slaughter of sheep in Cumbria, Dum­fries and Galloway announced on March 15th 2001 was, perhaps, not the best means of dealing with FMD in a species in which extensive husbandry, sub­clinical infection and low disease transmission are the


First day incidence (FDI) is a measure of the number of animals showing clinical signs on the first day of disease diagnosis for a given infected premise (IP), alternatively, prevalence at first report can be used.


First fortnight incidence (FFI) is the number of identified infected premises within a given region during the first fortnight of the regional focus, alternatively, prevalence at first report can be used.

norm. Kitching and colleagues (2004) discuss other ways in which the problems posed by sub-clinical infection can be addressed, which would result in the loss of fewer uninfected animals.

Intra-epidemic predictive modelling played a dispro­portionate role in the management of the 2001 epidemic in the UK. For example, the deterministic, state-transi-tion type model of the Imperial College group published in May 2001 (Ferguson et al., 2001a), based on differen­tial equations, did not differentiate between host species, or take into account different farm types and assumed constant infectiousness from three days after infection until slaughter. The latter situation does not occur in the field, as virus excretion from a group of animals in­creases over time from first infection to slaughter. In addition, farms closest to the index cases of FMD were declared to be at greatest risk of infection, but this con­clusion was incorrect and based on inaccurate input data and the observation ‘‘that, on average, animals on 34% of premises within a radius of 1.5 km of infected premises came down with FMD’’ (Anderson, 2002b). It was not possible to identify the source of infection for the majority of infected premises (Gibbens and Wilesmith, 2002), so it was assumed that the probable source was one of the recent nearby (within 3 km) infected premises

(i.e. due to "local spread"). It would have been more sci­entifically robust if the source of infection had been re­ported as "unknown".

In a later paper published in October 2001 (Ferguson et al., 2001b) the Imperial College group acknowledged some of the imperfections of their earlier publication, noting that the newly estimated spatial kernel differed significantly from that derived previously in that consid­erably more long-distance transmission events were pre­dicted (median distance 4 km). Taylor et al. (2004) have since shown that in over half the cases in the most heav­ily affected parts of Cumbria, occurrence of the disease was not directly attributable to a recently infected pre­mises being located within 1.5 km.

On these and other grounds the justification for a contiguous culling (CC) policy, ‘‘founded on a statistical concept’’ (Anderson, 2002b), with a 48 h target (report to pre-emptive slaughter) can be challenged. Failure of the informally constituted FMD Official Science Group to agree a definition of "contiguous" more than a month after the contiguous culling policy was introduced did not inspire confidence; further, those conducting the Lessons to be Learned Inquiry stated that ‘‘We have been unable to establish the precise rationale for the target of 48 hours, nor ascertain the source of that time scale

(Anderson, 2002a)’’.

Incidentally, contiguous slaughter was rarely achieved within the 48 h target in the field and many species of animal on contiguous premises remained in good health and went beyond the accepted incubation periods for FMD before they were killed.

Honhold et al. (2003) examined the effect of speed of animal slaughter on IPs and the intensity of culling on other premises on the rate of spread of FMD and con­cluded that the need for a contiguous cull was not sup­ported by analysis of the field data. Similar conclusions were reached by Taylor (2003) and Honhold et al. (2004) and their analysis of the data for Cumbria, the worst af­fected region where almost half the IPs in the epidemic occurred, indicated that the epidemic peaked prior to full implementation of the DC, contiguous and 3 km culling policies. Kitching and colleagues (2004) discuss what they term "ineffective pre-emptive culling" in some detail and their analysis clearly demonstrates the impor­tance of field veterinary epidemiology and effective col­laboration in disease control strategies; a view echoed by Haydon et al. (2004).

Mathematical models were a novel and contentious means of directing policy in 2001 and there have already been a number of publications assessing their strengths and weaknesses (Haywood and Haywood, 2002; Green and Medley, 2002; Kao, 2002; Lusmore, 2002; Taylor, 2003; Ap Dewi et al., 2004). The paper by Kitching and colleagues (2004) provides further evidence that in-tra-epidemic predictive modelling should not determine control polices.

Sheila M Crispin

Department of Clinical Veterinary Science University of Bristol, Langford House Langford, Bristol BS40 5DU, UK E-mail address:


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