"This is a suspected case which is being investigated," a Ministry of Agriculture spokesman told United Press International. "Human infections are very rare and there is no record of the condition spreading from person to person."
Only one previous human case has been reported in Britain, during the 1967 outbreak, which led to the destruction of 500,000 animals.
According to senior officials from the North Cumbria Health Authority, the victim, who was not identified, had been working closely with affected animals during the culling of cattle in northwestern England, one of the areas hit hardest by the epidemic sweeping Britain.
Government sources said there was little risk of the disease being passed on to other humans. However, any humans suspected of suffering from the disease would have to be isolated from both animals and other humans.
The disease causes blisters on the mouth and hands and usually subsides without posing risks to other humans. "Out of millions of cases of foot-and-mouth disease throughout the world there have been only a handful of suspected cases among humans," said a spokesman.
North Cumbria Health Authority's senior medical officer Peter Tiplady told the British Broadcasting Corp. the man was "accidentally sprayed with some material from a cow, and two weeks later developed symptoms similar to that in the animals - ulcers in the mouth and sore, itchy hands." He said: "It is not a very serious illness. He is not at all unwell, and we expect him to make a complete recovery."
Angus Nichol, director of the communicable diseases surveillance unit of the Public Health Laboratory Service, said, "Basically this is an animal virus. It doesn't like human beings. If you expose someone to massive amounts of the virus, they may get the disease, but they probably won't."
He said that when humans did contract foot-and-mouth, it was a very mild illness for them, which invariably cleared up within a matter of weeks. Nichol said that it was possible that an infected human could pass the virus onto animals, which are far more susceptible to infection.
"One can never say there is no danger but there have been no cases reported," Officials said that they had been alerted to several suspected human cases of foot-and-mouth since the beginning of the outbreak but tests for the virus had proved negative in each of them. A spokesman said that human foot-and-mouth was "not a big public health issue."
The report followed a growing outcry in the country over risks to human health from air pollution caused by the burning of infected animals in huge funeral pyres. Officials Sunday canceled plans for a mass burning in northern England following public protests but went ahead with another pyre in the west of the country.
More than half a million animals have been killed to control the spread of the epidemic, which has devastated large parts of agriculture in the country and decimated Britain's exports of meat and animal products. The decision not to go ahead with the burning of the pyre followed protests from residents and scientific studies which showed that incineration of the carcasses was not safer than burying them.
The National Environmental Technology Center said incineration released high levels of potentially carcinogenic dioxins into the atmosphere. About a dozen pyres piled high with carcasses of hundreds of animals, shot by army and veterinary experts, are still burning in various parts of the countryside, amid scenes of distress and in some areas angry protests by farmers.
The National Environmental Technology Center said in a report published by the Independent newspaper the burning of 500,000 animals had released quantities of dioxins that amounted to more than three-fourths of the annual total emitted by factories across Britain.
The disposal of destroyed animals has become a major issue in Britain, particularly as in some areas, carcasses were left rotting for several days as the weather warmed up.
Despite overwhelming scientific evidence discounting any risks to humans, Britons continue to be leery of any reports that hint at adverse effects on community health of the foot-and-mouth disease. The country is still battling effects of a previous outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the "mad cow" disease. The human form of BSE, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, is known to have killed about 90 people.
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