HC Deb 12 November 1998 vol 319 cc317-20W
Mr. William Ross

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when and where the last confirmed case of rabies was in the United Kingdom; what measures were taken to confine the outbreak and eliminate the wild species in the infected area and at what total cost; what measures he would take in the event of an outbreak; and how these measures would differ in rural and urban conditions. [59039]

Mr. Rooker

The last confirmed case of rabies outside quarantine was in 1970 in Newmarket. The case involved a dog imported from Pakistan on 30 May 1969 which was released from quarantine on 30 November. Signs of illness were first noted on 20 February 1970, and death from rabies occurred seven days later.

1997, MAFF funded a project to look at whether animal feeds produced from GM materials are likely to contain intact transgenes. The results will be reported shortly.

Another dog, owned by the same person and imported at the same time, which had shared quarantine accommodation with the infected dog was destroyed as a precaution against the spread of the disease.

The Department's veterinary staff, assisted by the police, made exhaustive inquiries to trace any other possible contacts. None were found. As a precaution however, a dog which had been bitten by the infected dog on 18 January 1970, was taken into quarantine, as was another dog which had strayed near the infected dog some 4-6 weeks before. Inquiries were extended to an area in north London which the owner visited with the infected dog shortly before the onset of the disease, but there was no known contact there. The infected dog was on a leash on the sole occasion that it was exercised while showing signs of the disease.

The dog was normally exercised on Newmarket Heath but was otherwise kept within the owner's house and yard.

Special inquiries were made on any possible risk to horses in the Newmarket area. The exercising arrangements for horses and for the infected dog left no scope for any form of contact or for transmission of the virus, nor was there any possibility of contact with wildlife. Foxes in the area were regularly destroyed by staff appointed by the Jockey Club and the Estate Gamekeepers. For these reasons and because the infected dog had the dumb form of rabies, it was determined that there was no need to take any further precautions in the Newmarket area.

Details of the total cost to the Department of carrying out these investigations are no longer available.

In the event of an outbreak of rabies occurring now, the Minister could declare an infected area, depending on the epidemiological circumstances of the outbreak. An infected area may be divided into zones and different control regimes may be applied in different zones.

Any or all of the following measures might be put into effect to ensure that the outbreak is contained and the virus eradicated:

  1. (i) Restriction of movement of certain species into or out of the area
  2. (ii) Control and confinement of specified animals in the area
  3. (iii) Seizure, detention and disposal of specified animals not under proper control in the area
  4. (iv) Compulsory vaccination of specified animals
  5. (v) Prohibition of gatherings of specified animals, including for sporting and/or recreational activities
  6. (vi) The destruction of foxes, game and/or other wildlife.

Mr. William Ross

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the principal species of wild animal involved in the transmission of rabies in Western Europe. [59041]

Mr. Rooker

The fox(Vulpes vulpes).

Mr. William Ross

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the event of an outbreak of rabies, how many poison baits his Department could produce each day for use against the principal vector species; what poisons he would use; and what number and percentage of such species he would aim to eliminate in order to contain the outbreak. [59038]

Mr. Rooker

The Department's rabies outbreak contingency plan (currently under review) at present envisages that in the event of an outbreak of rabies, strychnine injected into dead day-old chicks would be used as bait to target the principal vector species, the fox. The Central Science Laboratory is capable of preparing over 8,000 baits ever 24 hours. Unadulterated baits would be laid for 7 to 10 days to encourage maximum bait uptake before poison baits would be laid. During this period, approximately 25,000 poison baits could be produced for use in the infected area. Any poison baits not taken up would be collected and destroyed three days later.

The number of foxes to be eliminated would depend upon the size of the control area and the local density of foxes. Evidence suggests that about 80 per cent. of foxes in rural habitats, and about 90 per cent. of foxes in urban habitats should ideally be eliminated in order to control an outbreak in the shortest possible time.

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