A Global Success Story: Deadly Cattle Disease Is Wiped Off the Planet

By Eliza Strickland | October 15, 2010 5:01 pm

rinderpestGoodbye and good riddance, rinderpest.

For only the second time in history, humans have eradicated a disease through a long, slogging campaign of vaccinations and global alertness.

Rinderpest, which means “cattle plague” in German, does not affect humans, though it belongs to the same virus family as measles. But for millenniums in Asia, Europe and Africa it wiped out cattle, water buffalo, yaks and other animals needed for meat, milk, plowing and cart-pulling. Its mortality rate is about 80 percent — higher even than smallpox, the only other disease ever eliminated. [The New York Times]

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has been scanning the world for outbreaks, but the agency hasn’t seen a case since 2001, when one popped up in Kenya. Now that nine years have passed without a murmur of rinderpest, the agency says it’s confident that the virus has been wiped out. In the wild, at least. There are still some vials of virus in veterinary labs:

Still to be decided is how much virus to keep frozen in various countries’ laboratories, along with tissue from infected animals and stocks of vaccine, which is made from live virus. Virologists like to have samples handy for research, but public health experts, fearing laboratory accidents or acts of terrorism, usually press to destroy as much as possible. [The New York Times]

Related Content:
80beats: Did the Eradication of Smallpox Accidentally Help the Spread of HIV?
80beats: Will Polio Be the Second Disease Eradicated From the World?
80beats: “Affliction With Little Dragons” Could Be the First Eradicated Human Parasite

Image: flickr / ILRI

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World
  • http://Untitledvanityproject.blogspot.com Rhacodactylus

    This is awesome, but how many of the cows developed autism? Thus begins the countdown to an info-tainment show using a bad pun about “herd immunity.” My money is on the Today show, but they’re probably even money with fox news.

    ~Rhaco

  • Zachary

    How would you even notice that a cow has autism, I consider most cows autistic by nature.

  • Brian Too

    That’s the second piece of good news this week, the first being those Chilean miners who all got out alive.

  • obsidian

    Wow so that means we get to kill them instead! Well done humanity…

  • Rabidmob

    In truth we’re probably setting up a house of cards when we eradicate viruses such as this. Sure it’s good for now, but how long until a disease with similar traits mutates and decimates a now completely defenseless species?

    Of course I’m no virologist, I have no idea how such things occur or on what time scale. I do have doubts to the completeness of our wiping out of this disease, much the same as we found other things, supposedly extinct but living in small amounts.

    As far as maintaining live copies of the disease and how much, really there is a simple answer, it should be done in 1 and only 1 facility.

    @Brian Too, #3: Sure we kill them, but we do so with directed purpose, I mean in what way does killing it’s host help the disease? Besides we also keep a large number of them for milking purposes. I mean with cows, their species will likely survive for as long as we do, I think that’s pretty cool in some respects. Its a symbiosis of an nontraditional sort I suppose.

  • tim333

    @obsidian -

    Well at least we get them to pass away relatively painlessly before sending then to meet their french fries.

  • Angela

    @Rabidmob, but what happens then if there’s a fire or somehow that one sample is destroyed? Then we have no more samples to use in case it or another similar virus emerges.

  • Brian Too

    @5. Rabidmob,

    I think perhaps you meant to direct your comment to @4. obsidian?

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