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Rev Sci Tech. 2011 Aug;30(2):483-98.

Destructive tension: mathematics versus experience--the progress and control of the 2001 foot and mouth disease epidemic in Great Britain.

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  • 1Animal Health Divisional Office, Strathearn House, Broxden Business Park, Lamberkine Drive, Perth, PH1 1RX, UK.


The 2001 foot and mouth disease epidemic in Great Britain was characterised by control using both traditional and novel methods, some resulting from conclusions of mathematical models. Seven days before the implementation of the novel controversial automatic pre-emptive culling of all susceptible livestock on premises adjacent to infected premises (the 'contiguous cull'), the spread of infection had already been controlled by a combination of the traditional stamping out policy with a national movement ban on livestock. A second controversial novel policy requiring the slaughter of sheep within 3 km of premises on which disease had been confirmed (the 3-km cull) also commenced after the peak of infection spread, was untargeted and took several weeks to complete; serosurveillance of culled sheep detected infection in only one flock, suggesting that cryptic infection of sheep was not propagating the epidemic. Extensive post-epidemic serological surveillance of sheep found only a small number of seropositive animals in a very few flocks, suggesting that foot and mouth disease may self-limit in extensive sheep populations. The epidemic was finally brought to an end following the introduction of enhanced agricultural movement restrictions and biosecurity measures. A welfare culling scheme of unaffected animals was required to support the prolonged national livestock movement ban. The models that supported the contiguous culling policy were severely flawed, being based on data from dissimilar epidemics; used inaccurate background population data, and contained highly improbable biological assumptions about the temporal and quantitative parameters of infection and virus emission in infected herds and flocks.

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