Foot-and-Mouth Human Tests Due Next Week

Britons may have to wait until next week to find out if the foot-and-mouth epidemic has spread to the human population.

British health authorities said today they didn't expect test results on three people suspected of catching the disease to be available until next week, furthering fears ahead of the revenue-generating tourist season.

Despite alarming headlines in local papers, like "My Foot and Mouth Hell," health officials are doing their best to reassure the public.

'It Was Like a Cold'

The daughter of the last Briton to catch the disease, told The Associated Press, "It was like a cold really and it just went away, so there was not really much to worry about."

Sylvia Rungien's late father, Bobby Brewis, caught the livestock disease in 1966.

His symptoms were similar to the cloven-hoofed animals infected by the disease — blisters on the hands and feet and inside the mouth.

The disease only causes mild, flu-like symptoms in humans, which clear up in a week or two, said Bruce Lawhorn, a professor and veterinarian at Texas A&M University. "It's almost a non-issue," he said.

Experts say not only is the infection negligible, but the rate of infection is also low.

Many humans have worked with infected animals without any protection, and very few have ever been affected.

A Sickening Gulp

Part of the alarm may have been caused by gruesome reports on how one of the three who are suspected of having the disease may have caught it.

On Monday, a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said "[the man] was moving a decomposing carcass of a cow and that carcass exploded and the fluid went into his mouth."

The spokesman emphasized that he only released the report to underline how unusual it was for a human to contract the disease.

Details about the other two suspected cases were not released, but officials said none of the cases were related.

Very Rare Worldwide

Since the beginning of the outbreak, there have been several other cases in which people showed symptoms of foot-and-mouth, authorities said. But none of them tested positive.

Many cases believed to be foot-and-mouth in the past were actually hand, foot and mouth disease, experts say. Hand, foot and mouth is an unrelated human illness caused by a virus that infects the gut and mostly affects children.

The earliest report of a human being infected by foot and mouth was in 1695, in Germany — but that was long before the development of the first test to detect the virus that causes foot-and-mouth disease.

Since testing was developed, foot-and-mouth has been confirmed in about 40 humans around the world.