Foot-and-mouth disease spoils girls' rugby trip

A girls' rugby team from southern Alberta is hoping the beef industry will help them salvage a trip abroad.

The team was forced to cancel a trip to the United Kingdom because of the risk of bringing back foot-and-mouth disease. The girls come from all over southern Alberta and many live on farms or ranches.

John Seaman, the assistant coach and phys ed teacher at the high school in Vulcan, says it wasn't an easy decision for the girls to make. But he says they are now hoping the Canadian Cattlemen's Association will make a donation. He says that way the teenagers could recover the thousands of dollars they lost in airline cancellation fees and have enough left over to travel to Australia instead.

"We are still trying to get the girls a tour," he says. "We're hoping because it happened in a couple of other places that the Cattlemen's Association or the beef industry has helped out and said, 'Thanks for not going, you saved our industry. Here's a little money to make up for your losses.'"

Seaman says he hopes to hear from the association within a day or two. If the team does come up with the $5,000 it needs, it will leave for Sydney, Australia on April 10.

Meanwhile, Alberta's chief veterinarian says he is fielding dozens of calls from schools worried about class trips. Dr. Gerald Ollis says he's advising them of the risks involved with travelling to Britain, but he's leaving the decision of whether to go, up to individual teachers. However, he is telling them that not going to countries where the virus is a problem is the only way to ensure complete safety.

"I think we're going to be under this high red alert for a long time," he says.

Ollis also says foot-and-mouth disease is spreading so rapidly, there aren't very many countries left in the world that are still free of the virus.

"You really don't know where it's going to be detected tomorrow," he says. "I'm really not sure what parts of the country would be safe, so I think we need to start taking a look at our bio-security at airports, from flights coming from anywhere else in the world."

Ollis says the virus can survive for at least 14 days on clothes, so even taking every precaution available is no guarantee a person won't carry it back to Canada.

Maureen Miller reports for CBC Radio