Foot and mouth 20 years on: what an animal virus epidemic taught UK science

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Britain’s top vet was newly qualified when the outbreak hit. Here, she talks about the devastating slaughter and tracking virus variants

Christine Middlemiss was a young vet working in Scotland in February 2001 when foot and mouth disease struck Britain. Having grown up on a farm, and having later worked in veterinary care in Cumbria, she volunteered to help battle an affliction that would eventually take a terrible toll on UK livestock.

“I volunteered as a temporary veterinary inspector at 4pm and was told to report to a farm in Cumbria by 8am the next day,” Middlemiss told the Observer last week. “I got there and was given an A5 piece of paper with instructions about what I had to do. That was all the recorded advice that was available at the time.”

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