Rinderpest, a centuries-old livestock disease that kills 80-90% of infected animals, has been completely eradicated, according to a team of veterinary scientists. Despite being a viral disease, making treatment difficult as compared with diseases which can be treated with antibiotics and antifungals, the scientists were able to use a regime of vaccination to get rid of rinderpest. To test whether the disease had indeed been eliminated, they stopped administering the vaccine; as the disease failed to come back, they have concluded that rinderpest is totally eradicated.
This makes rinderpest the second viral disease eliminated by humans: The other is smallpox.
The centuries-old disease, also known as cattle plague, kills 80-90% of infected livestock and caused untold economics damage, Oura says. For instance, a 19th century outbreak decimated cattle populations in the Horn of Africa, while a 1980s outbreak in Nigeria cost an estimated £2 billion.
An effective vaccine against the virus has been around since the 1950s, but it was not applied in the concerted manner needed to stamp out the disease, Oura says. “It was clear that although the vaccine was being used, it wasn’t being used efficiently.”
Better field diagnostics and improvements in the vaccine that made it last longer in tough environments made possible the launch of an eradication campaign in 1994, led by the FAO and the World Organization for Animal Health in Paris.
Following the success of this campaign, scientists hope to use similar methods to eliminate other harmful animal viruses, such as peste de petits ruminants (PPR).