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Rabies contingency plans mean business as usual

THE GOVERNMENT dismissed a newspaper scare story that there would be a mass cull of domestic animals should the UK ever face a rabies outbreak.

An article in the News of the World newspaper claimed that the Government was stockpiling rabies vaccine after secret warnings that terrorists were planning to release the deadly virus in the rabies-free UK.

The article, based on an answer to a parliamentary Question by MP Peter Luff last month to Animal Health Minister Elliot Morley, claimed that the Government’s contingency plan included a mass cull of wildlife and domestic animals, whilst pet within a 50 mile radius of the outbreak would be ordered to keep their pets indoors.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) denied that there were any such contingency plans - pointing to a ‘business as usual’ stance by the Government, saying that it was far more likely that animals such as dogs would have to be kept muzzled for the duration of a rabies outbreak.

A DEFRA spokesman also denied that there were ‘stockpiles’ of vaccine saying: "There are strategic reserves of rabies vaccine that the Government has access to, but they would be used sparingly and limited to infected areas."

Mr Morley’s written reply to Peter Luff pointed out the DEFRA were revising and updating contingency plans in the event of a rabies outbreak, based on "lessons learned" from the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak.

Whilst stating that the cull of wildlife during an outbreak was an option, Mr Morley said that vaccination was also a viable and preferred control method.

Mr Morley said: "As part of the review of the contingency plan, we are looking at the most appropriate control mechanisms in different outbreak scenarios, and the decision-making required, taking into account the specific circumstances and location of the outbreak. It is likely that in most circumstances, vaccination would be the preferred approach."

Mr Morley added that a draft rabies contingency plan would be issued for consultation in the near future.