Deadly cattle plague on its deathbed

by Editor
Thursday, December 03, 2009

In animal health circles, it's the equivalent of the Apollo 11 moon landing: some time in the next 18 months, FAO jointly with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and other partners will officially declare one of the most devastating animal diseases known to man, rinderpest, as eradicated.

It will be the first time in history that humankind has succeeded in killing off an animal disease and only the second time a disease has been consigned to the dustbin as a result of human efforts. (The first was smallpox, in 1980.)

The victory comes after an intense decades-long campaign—spearheaded by FAO and involving a broad alliance of partners—to isolate rinderpest, also known as cattle plague, in its last few remaining pockets and then wipe it out, once and for all.

Rinderpest does not affect humans directly but it is lethal to the cattle and hoofed animals upon which they depend for food, income, and draught power. Death rates during outbreaks can approach 100%.

Caused by a virus and spread by contact and contaminated materials, rinderpest has destroyed countless millions of cattle, buffalo, yaks and their wild relatives, causing staggering economic losses and contributing to famine and social unrest for thousands of years.