Archive Number 20071126.3829
Published Date 26-NOV-2007
Subject PRO/AH> Foot & mouth disease - UK (England): poss. accident. release
FOOT & MOUTH DISEASE - UK (ENGLAND): POSSIBLE ACCIDENTAL RELEASE
A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases
[ProMED apologizes for the delay in posting this report - Ed.LM]
Date: 22 Nov 2007
U.K. Has 'Probable' Leak of Foot-and-Mouth Disease (Update3)
The U.K. experienced a "probable" new leak of the foot-and-mouth
disease virus at the same laboratory that was at the center of an
outbreak in August .
The incident occurred on 19 Nov 2007 at the Merial facility at the
Pirbright laboratory in Surrey, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn
said in an e-mailed statement. A malfunction was found in a valve on
a pipe leading from a centrifuge that's used to separate the live
virus from waste product, Benn said. Operations were immediately
stopped and the machine and pipes decontaminated.
"Merial judged that the valve had been leaking, allowing an
unintended probable release of live FMD virus into the contained
drainage system, which was then pumped to the final chemical
treatment facility without being heat-treated," Benn said. Merial's
license to produce vaccines using foot-and-mouth disease was
suspended. The live disease hasn't entered the environment, a
government spokeswoman said in a telephone interview.
The August  outbreak at the same laboratory site was probably
caused by faulty drainage at a research facility, the Health and
Safety Executive said on 7 Sep 2007.
It wasn't possible to identify which of the 2 units that share the
laboratory site, the government-run Institute for Animal Health or
Merial Animal Health Ltd., was responsible for that incident, the HSE
said. Leaking pipes at the site probably contained the virus, which
spread to 2 nearby farms after being brought to the surface by rains
and contaminating the vehicles of workers renovating the site.
"Merial Animal Health can confirm that on Monday, 19 Nov 2007, we
shut down our vaccine production center at Pirbright," Merial, which
manufactures veterinary pharmaceuticals and vaccines said in an
e-mailed statement. "The site's bio-security waste treatment
facilities handled the situation exactly as they are designed to do,"
the group said. "We expect to be operational again soon."
The then Chief Veterinary Officer Debby Reynolds said on 7 Sep 2007
that Britain was free of foot-and-mouth after the disease was first
confirmed on 3 Aug 2007. The outbreak prompted a cull of 576 animals
and cost the industry 10 million pounds ($20.6 million) a week.
The August outbreak led to a 10-kilometer (6-mile) protection and
surveillance zone being placed around the Pirbright site and
neighboring farms. The government took the precautions to prevent a
repeat of the 2001 outbreak when it failed to impose a transport ban
for days, allowing the disease to spread to 2,030 animals. That
prompted a cull of 10 million animals and cost the economy 10 billion
"It's extremely concerning that part of the system at Merial has
failed," the National Farmers' Union said in an e-mailed statement.
"Given what has happened this summer and the massive financial loss
still being felt by many farmers, we are naturally very sensitive
about foot-and-mouth disease."
Foot-and-mouth is an infectious disease affecting cloven-hoofed
animals, in particular cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and deer, the
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said on its Web
site. Since 3 Aug 2007 there have been 8 confirmed cases of
foot-and-mouth in Surrey and Windsor and Maidenhead, the government
"Another leak of foot-and-mouth virus at the government-licensed
Pirbright site will shock the farming community, the British science
community and the public," the opposition Conservatives' Shadow
Environment Secretary Peter Ainsworth said in an e-mailed statement.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown "spent the whole summer boasting of his
competence in handling the foot-and-mouth outbreak," said Ainsworth,
adding, "This Government's credibility is rapidly falling apart."
Merial is a private research venture of Merck & Co., a Whitehouse
Station, New Jersey-based drugmaker, and Paris-based Sanofi-Aventis
SA. The company employs about 5000 staff, and sales last year were
nearly $2.2 billion dollars, the company said on its Web site. The
vaccines produced at the Pirbright laboratory are for export purposes
only, a Merial spokesman said in a telephone interview.