The foot and mouth disease crisis took a new twist this week as a slaughter man from Cumbria awaits blood test results to confirm whether he has contracted the disease.

The man, who has not been named, was working as a contractor in one of the country's worst affected areas when he was accidentally sprayed with infectious material from a cow. Two weeks later, he had developed symptoms which included mouth ulcers and core, itchy hands, and authorities now believes he is the first human victim of foot and mouth during this crisis.

Dr Peter Tiplady, of the North Cumbria Health Authority, stressed: "It is not a very serious illness. He is not at all unwell, and we expect him to make a complete recovery."

The incident has opened a Pandora's box of public health fears, however as it seems to contradict the statements from medical authorities that humans cannot contract the disease from infected animals. In fact, scientists now maintain that it is "highly improbable," so the general public are not at risk. A spokesman from Maff commented: "Foot and mouth in humans is very rare but it can occur - this case is being investigated urgently. It is a mild illness in humans."

If the tests are confirmed positive, the slaughter man will be only the second recorded case in this country of a human infected with the foot and mouth virus. The other case was recorded in 35 year-old farm machinery salesman Bobby Brewis during the 1966 outbreak. Brewis was reported to have only "indirect contact" with infected animals, but he suffered no long-term health effects. The authorities meanwhile stress that no case of human-to-human transmission has ever been recorded.

Officials said that the test results will not be returned for at least another 48 hours, and the illness would not be confirmed until then.

The news came ahead of the revelation from environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth that the burning pyres used to deal with the epidemic are releasing carcinogenic dioxins into the environment. To read more about this, click here: /news_detail.asp?art=30948&app=1