Experts from the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) are investigating two more suspected cases of foot and mouth in humans today as contract slaughterman Paul Stamper awaits the results of his blood test to reveal whether he has also contracted the virus while working with infected animals in Cumbria. The new cases are not believed to be from the same area.


The PHLS has also revealed that over the course of the current foot and mouth epidemic, it has carried out tests on six other humans who were suspected of contracting the virus. It added that these cases were all found to be negative.


A spokesman from the service commented: “The case yesterday has obviously raised concerns.” The potential for humans to contract the virus from animals is causing much scientific interest because while a disease with similar symptoms is found in humans, hand, foot and mouth disease, a completely different virus causes it. Only one human case of the animal disease has been confirmed in this country, that of Bobby Brewis in 1966.
 
Officials have stressed however that it remains highly improbable for the virus to pass from animals to humans, but that if it does jump species it results in a very mild illness that disappears within a few weeks. The general population is not at risk, insist experts.


The government admitted yesterday however that the people who live near to the burning pyres of animals in the countryside could suffer some health problems. It denied the fears surrounding the fires’ release of carcinogenic dioxins, a point raised on Monday by environmental group Friends of the Earth, but admitted that the public could be exposed to high levels of irritants such as sulphur dioxide. The fires may also exacerbate the symptoms of asthma.


The government advised members of the public living nearby to avoid prolonged exposure to the fumes in the air.


Yesterday, the number of confirmed cases of foot and mouth amongst livestock in the UK had reached 1,456.