A Question for the Epidemiologists

Is this something we should be worried about? I understand that foot-and-mouth disease is nothing to mess around with, but I find this story somewhat perplexing. For example, the caption to the photo says, in part:

The Bush administration relied on a flawed study to conclude that research on a highly infectious animal disease could safely be moved from an isolated island laboratory to sites on the mainland near livestock, congressional investigators concluded in findings obtained by The Associated Press.


Yet, nowhere in the article, or in the linked material, is this contention supported. The only thing we get is Dingell threatening to subpoena missing material from homeland undersecretary Jay Cohen. Anybody know what is going on with this?

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3 Responses

  1. There was a small outbreak of foot-and-mouth in England in August and Septemeber of 2007. IIRC, this was tracked down to virus escaping from a nearby research facility.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6931639.stm

  2. It just comes down to simple statistics. If you have a research facility surrounded by lots of potential hosts for the disease then your chance of getting an epidemic infection chain going from an accidental release is far higher than if your facility isn’t surrounded by lots of potential hosts for the disease.
    Nothing complex about it. Unless you are a politician who believes ‘because my political base will get the research money’ is a statistical winner over ‘until we have to kill a few million cattle to stop the disease from spreading further’.

  3. I haven’t been there but have discussed this with people who have, and are familiar with the area. They’ve told me, just as the article says, that the “island” is not isolated at all, and potential hosts wander back and forth between it and the mainland all the time. Assuming that is the case, then the new locations for the lab might not present much more risk than currently exists.
    To build on Benjamin Franz’s comment, a contrarian view might be that it makes more sense to place the lab in the middle of a large city rather than in the countryside where there are might be deer, elk, moose, etc., or in rural areas where there are farms.

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