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Foot-and-mouth cases found in sprawling national park

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March 5, 2001 


LONDON-(AP) - The first case of foot-and-mouth disease has been found in a huge national park in southwest England, agriculture officials said Sunday, raising fears it will be spread by wildlife to more livestock that graze there.

Nearly 60 separate outbreaks of the highly contagious livestock disease have been reported in Britain and Northern Ireland, and about 45,000 animals - sheep, cows and pigs - have been destroyed in an effort to stop the spread of the ailment.

The outbreak in the Dartmoor National Park was found in livestock at a tenant farm inside the sprawling moor in Devon, in southwest England. The National Farmers Union called the spread of the disease to the park - where about 46,000 cattle and sheep graze - a "nightmare scenario."

Hikers and horseback riders had already been told to stay off the moor, but the virus could easily be spread among the park's livestock herds by the park's teeming wildlife. Many animals can carry the disease without catching it themselves.

Since the first cases were discovered on Feb. 19 at a slaughterhouse in southern England, authorities have banned exports of British milk, meat and live animals. At outbreak sites, herds are being destroyed, with pyres of carcasses burning around the clock.

The first suspected cases were reported in continental Europe last week, with the discovery of blisters - one of the telltale symptoms - on the snouts of three pigs in northern Belgium. As a precaution, European countries have destroyed thousands of animals imported from Britain before the export ban took effect.

Belgian authorities immediately created a buffer zone around the suspect farm and imposed a three-day ban on transport of all farm animals. On Sunday, Belgium's two biggest zoos were closed while officials waited for test results on the pigs.

The livestock ailment, which poses no danger to humans, has already dealt a heavy blow to British farmers, and could do the same to their counterparts elsewhere in Europe if the outbreak spreads.

It is extremely difficult to contain an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, which infects cloven-hoofed animals like sheep, cows and pigs. The virus can be carried for miles (km) by the wind, people, clothes or cars, surviving for lengthy periods on boots and clothing. It can also be spread by contaminated hay, water and manure.

The outbreak has triggered cancellations of scores of sporting events and other large gatherings. Hundreds of parks, zoos, nature preserves and countryside trails in Britain have been closed.

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