Changes to the way milk and water are prepared for human consumption may be needed to fight "a public health tragedy" linked to a bug causing illness in hundreds of thousands of people, it was claimed last night.
Researchers believe they have found the strongest association yet between a disease commonly found in livestock and Crohn's disease, a condition of the digestive tract suffered by about one in 600 of the population.
Prof Hermon-Taylor is trying to develop a vaccine against Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP) as a treatment for Crohn's disease and is shortly to test it on mice.
Research by his team and others suggests that MAP, which infects cattle, is infiltrating water supplies and defeating the milk pasteurisation process. Links between MAP, which has been found in 2% of pasteurised milk cartons, and Crohn's disease have been investigated for some years. In 1998 the government's advisory committee on dangerous pathogens decided that a link could not be demonstrated by the available evidence.
The food standards agency said the government was seeking to find ways in which MAP might be killed by changes in pasteurisation. It believed precautionary action to reduce human exposure to MAP should start now and not depend on a link with disease in humans to be proved or disproved.