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MIYAZAKI (Kyodo) A big livestock farm hit by foot-and-mouth disease in Kawaminami, Miyazaki Prefecture, noticed several cows drooling April 18, two days before the prefectural government announced the outbreak in the town of Tsuno, the company operating the farm and others said Sunday.

Several cows at the farm tested strongly positive for the disease, suggesting they had been infected for more than two weeks. It is now suspected the disease existed at the farm in Kawaminami by early April at the latest.

The farm operator did not report the abnormalities to the livestock hygiene service center until April 24, the sources said.

The operator said it thought the symptoms suggested the cows had a cold and administered antibiotics. It made a report to the center April 24, two days after it found some of the cows had developed tongue sores and their drooling worsened.

“We had suspected cold as the drooling was only slightly more than usual,” a company official said. “It would have been extremely difficult to foresee the foot-and-mouth disease (outbreak) before the first case was reported, and we reported when the number of cows with tongue sores rose.”

While dozens of farms are suspected to have overlooked signs of infection, a government team investigating the outbreak believes the major farm, with more than 700 cows, holds the key to deciphering the route of infection.

The prefectural government has already been found to have failed to conduct proper tests to confirm the disease when a water buffalo in Tsuno developed diarrhea at the end of March. More than 289,000 cows and pigs were slaughtered to contain the epidemic.

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