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Humanity frees cattle, buffalo from cloven-hoofed plague

Rinderpest, the first animal disease to be eradicated

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The Office International des Epizooties (OIE) has announced that rinderpest, aka cattle plague, has been wiped out.

Rinderpest is believed to have originated in Asia, and gradually spread through movements of livestock. Over the centuries, the viral infection* provoked major human famines as it devasted cattle. Reuters notes that "after the disease reached Africa in the 19th century, one rinderpest pandemic is estimated to have been responsible for the starvation of one-third of the human population of Ethiopia".

Yacouba Samake, OIE Regional Representative for Africa, told the news agency: "These animals are used for work but also for milk and meat. If the disease hits the herd, all these high-quality proteins, you can forget them; it's a catastrophe."

An outbreak in Belgium in 1920 prompted international efforts to control animal diseases, and was an impetus to the creation of the OIE in 1924. A concerted campaign to eliminate rinderpest – the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme – began in 1980, with major support from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The OIE was able to declare yesterday that "the 198 countries with rinderpest-susceptible animals had been declared free of the disease".

OIE director general Bernard Vallat said: "Today we witness a historical event as rinderpest is the first animal disease ever to be eradicated by humankind."

The FAO's Ann Tutwiler added: "Rinderpest has been one of the top priorities of FAO in its quest to defeat hunger and improve lives through agriculture. With the eradication of the disease in live animals, livestock production around the globe has become safer and the livelihoods of millions of livestock farmers are less at risk. There are important lessons to be learnt when it comes to defeating other animal diseases."

Rinderpest now joins smallpox on the list of officially deceased diseases. The World Health Organization announced the latter was no more in 1980. ®

Bootnote

The OIE explains: "Rinderpest, also known as cattle plague, is a contagious viral disease affecting several species of wild and domestic cloven-hoofed animals (animals with a hoof split into two toes) notably cattle and buffalo. Rinderpest is caused by a virus of the family Paramyxoviridae, genus Morbillivirus. Many species of wild and domestic cloven-hoofed animals including sheep and goats, can show milder clinical signs of the disease when infected, but the mortality rate can reach up to 100 per cent in highly susceptible cattle or buffalo herds."

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