Europe takes drastic measures to curb foot and mouth virus


Saturday, March 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ Disinfected shoes. Saunas for travelers. Confiscated sandwiches.

The measures health officials are taking against the foot-and-mouth virus may seem odd or drastic, but the disease is so potentially devastating to animals, no one in Europe wants to take any chances.

``Maybe it's better to be a little bit too cautious in this situation,'' says Anders Engvall of the Swedish Veterinary Institute.

Experts say it is extremely difficult to contain an outbreak of foot and mouth, a highly contagious virus that infects cloven-hoofed animals like sheep, cows and pigs. It almost never infects humans.

The latest outbreak was first detected at a slaughterhouse near London last week, and already thousands of British-exported animals have been destroyed.

The health alert prompted the cancellation of sports events, animal shows and even Dublin's St. Patrick's Day parade. In Scotland, the world's first cloned sheep, named Dolly, was placed in quarantine for her safety.

Belgium on Saturday banned the export of all farm animals after reporting a suspected outbreak of the disease on a farm in the west. If confirmed, it would be the first confirmed case of the virus on the European continent since foot-and-mouth was first reported in Britain last week.

The government also halted all animal transports for three days and imposed a buffer zone around the suspected farm, some 60 miles west of Brussels, where blisters were found on the mouths of three pigs imported from Britain.

The fact that foot-and-mouth can be contracted by breathing and can survive for lengthy periods on boots and clothing has led to a host of sudden travel restrictions.

Portugal is requiring passengers arriving from the United Kingdom to disinfect their shoes in a washbasin upon arrival at any airport or port.

In Finland, authorities have instructed people visiting England to keep away from farms. If that's unavoidable, they should ``wash very carefully in the sauna'' on their return home.

And Swedish farmers are being encouraged to avoid unnecessary visitors or at least make sure their clothing is disinfected until the situation is brought under control.

``We had this disease in Sweden in 1966, and we remember it's awful,'' Ingemar Nordell of the Skaane dairy said. ``But we have a lot of young farmers in Sweden that haven't been through it and they need to be aware.''

German airports have placed food entering from Britain _ anything containing meat or dairy products _ under suspicion as a possible carrier. Customs officers were even confiscating uneaten sandwiches from passengers.

A British church organ and the container it was shipped in were disinfected upon arrival Wednesday in a rural Norwegian town.

A local veterinarian said the $248,000 organ probably was virus-free, but Norwegians weren't taking any chances because it had been trucked through the English countryside.

France's estimated 4 million-member Muslim community faced a potential shortage of sacrificial lambs for the Eid al-Adha holiday after the government said it would destroy more than 50,000 sheep _ many of them specially imported for the holiday. Muslim butchers in Britain faced the same problem.

``It's a difficult year, and we must accept that and keep our calm,'' Dalil Boubakeur, head of the Mosque of Paris, said. ``If people cannot carry out the sacrifice, they should make a gesture to the poor.''

In French ports, authorities sprayed the tires of arriving trucks with disinfectant.

Hunters in southeastern Russia randomly shot wild rams straying across the border from Mongolia to find out if any were infected, emergency official Eduard Popov was quoted as saying by news agency ITAR-Tass on Friday.

Spain was refraining from foot baths of water and bleach at airports, but it did ban cattle fairs, auctions and horse shows.