May 26, 2011

World No Longer Devastated By Cattle Plague

Rinderpest is gone!

A cattle disease that has caused millions of people to die of starvation for hundreds of centuries has been declared eradicated from the world, according to world animal health body OIE.

"Today we witness a historical event as rinderpest is the first animal disease ever to be eradicated by humankind," OIE Director General Bernard Vallat said at the organization's annual gathering.

The Office International des Epizooties (OIE), the World Organization for Animal Health, approved a report that certified that the last 14 countries of the world were free of rinderpest, also called cattle plague.

It is the second disease, after smallpox to be wiped out by humankind through a global vaccination campaign.

"It's a historic moment," says Vallat. "The world is free of rinderpest; its virus no longer circulates among animals."

Cattle plague is highly contagious and is often fatal for bovine species such as cattle, yaks, wildebeest and buffaloes as well as cloven-footed animals like sheep and goats, but are not transferrable to humans. The disease causes animals to develop a fever, lesions in the mouth, diarrhea and dehydration.

Small farmers could see their entire herds wiped out, having an enormous impact to humans.

OIE Regional Representative for Africa Yacouba Samake said, "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."

Dating back even before Roman times, the disease has plagued the world.

"Rinderpest epidemics and resulting losses proceeded the fall of the Roman empire, the conquest of Christian Europe by Charlemagne and the impoverishment of Russia," the FAO says.

"When rinderpest was introduced into sub-Saharan Africa, at the end of the 19th century, it triggered extensive famines and opened the way for the colonization of Africa."

Since 1920, with the help of the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and national veterinary agencies, OIE has been on a quest to take out the plague with vaccines and routine surveillance. Veterinarians would swiftly spot outbreaks and immediately treat it before they could spread too far.

Remaining samples of the virus would be collected and destroyed, agrees the OIE assembly. However, it also agreed to keep a small number that would be kept in special labs under high security to avoid accidental release or use in bioterrorism, reports AFP.

Negotiations on the future of the last stocks of smallpox virus, which are held in U.S. and Russian labs, have been postponed for three years, and have divided the World Health Organization at its assembly earlier this week.

Rome will host agriculture ministers and heads of state next month to celebrate the breakthrough, says Ann Tutwiler, deputy director general of the FAO.

She says that eradication of the cattle plague has massively boosted the fight against hunger and malnutrition, a problem that is expected to worsen as world population grows and the climate changes.

"We have a tremendous success that we can count today. It's a success that's born of cooperation, collaboration and partnership and most particularly knowledge," she says.


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