Cattle disease rinderpest, which once killed millions, is declared to be extinct
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2011:
PARIS–The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) on May
25, 2011 formally announced the eradication of rinderpest–the first
time an animal disease has been extinguished through human efforts,
and only the second time that any disease has been eradicated. The
first, smallpox, was last reported in 1977.
“It was rinderpest that led to the formation of the OIE in
1924, following a new incursion of the rinderpest virus in Europe,
via the port of Antwerp,” recalled British Veterinary Medical
Association spokesperson Helena Cotton.
Rinderpest at peak in the 19th century killed as many as a
million hooved animals per year in central Europe, Asia, and
Africa. A third of the human population of Ethiopia reportedly
starved in the 1880s due to livestock losses occasioned by rinderpest.
The effects of a rinderpest outbreak are also believed to
have made maneaters of The Ghost and The Darkness, two maneless male
lions who devoured as many as 135 railway workers in 1898-1899 in the
Tsavo region of Kenya. British military veterinarian Walter
Plowright, sent to Kenya in 1944, worked from 1956 to his
retirement in 1981 to perfect a vaccine against rinderpest.
Plowright died in February 2010, just ahead of an announcement that
rinderpest appeared to have been eradicated. The last known outbreak
of rinderpest occurred in Kenya in 2001. Officially pronouncing it
extinguished required another year of observation.
The key breakthrough was eradicating rinderpest in
Afghanistan, achieved in 1997. Veterinary epidemiologists feared
that rinderpest would re-emerge during the Taliban occupation of
Afghanistan that followed, when little follow-up was possible.
Veterinary surveillance resumed after the 2003 U.S. invasion of
Afghanistan discovered, however, that the vaccination work done
eight years earlier had remained effective.
Said Peter Roeder, secretary of the Global Rinderpest
Eradication Programme from 2000 to 2007, “If we can truly learn the
lessons from rinderpest eradication there is no reason why we
couldn’t see other diseases brought to global extinction.”
The World Alliance for Rabies Control believes rabies could
be the next major disease to be eradicated. All rabies strains
except bat rabies are believed to be wholly eradicable through
intensive vaccination. Bat rabies is problematic, however, because
no efficient means of vaccinating large numbers of bats who live in
inaccessibe caves and hollow trees has yet been found.