Study: Foot-and-Mouth in U.K. Under Control

A team of independent scientists today confirmed that the livestock disease that crippled the British tourism industry, sapped national morale and turned the bucolic countryside into an enormous slaughterhouse is at last under control.

The study, conducted by a team of scientists from the University of Edinburgh's Center for Tropical Veterinary Medicine and published in the journal Nature, said the government's battle against foot-and-mouth disease was being won.

It is the first independent confirmation that Britain had turned the corner in battling the highly contagious disease.

But scientists from the Center for Tropical Veterinary Medicine also warned that though the livestock disease had been contained, there was still need for continued aggressive action to prevent a resurgence.

"Any intensification or relaxation of control efforts could greatly affect the final scale and duration of the epidemic," the study said.

Spreading the Infection

The scientists based their study on the "case-reproduction ratio," a calculation that measures how many new cases were being generated by each farm already afflicted by the disease.

For an outbreak to be considered "under control," the "case-reproduction ratio" should be less than one, a figure that was reached on March 30, according to the study.

At the start of the epidemic, the scientists found that each afflicted farm was generating three new cases.

The containment was a result of the government's culling program as well as early detection measures, the study found.

Silence of the Lambs

The news came more than a week after David King, the government's chief scientific adviser, announced the epidemic was "fully under control."

Since foot-and-mouth was confirmed on Feb 20, animals on more than 1,500 farms were afflicted by the disease, sparking off a mass culling that fueled anger in the British farming community, which has lost nearly 4 percent of its livestock.

Although foot-and-mouth is virtually harmless to humans, fears of exposure to the virus have taken a toll on the British tourism industry over the past two months as foreign and domestic tourists have stayed away from rural areas. The British tourism industry is expected to have lost nearly $3.6 billion in cancellations.

The worst affected were British farmers, who had to stand by while thousands of their healthy animals were slaughtered in order to meet international trade standards.

Under European Union regulations, culling animals is the only way to earn a "disease free" status on world markets.

ABCNEWS' Linda Albin in London contributed to this report.