Scientific success story – Rinderpest

This month, for only the second time ever, a disease has been declared totally eradicated. The first, and most famous, was smallpox.  The new one is a livestock disease that, fortunately never got a foothold on this side of the Atlantic.

Rinderpest – from the Merck Veterinary Manual

is a disease of cloven-hoofed animals characterized by fever, necrotic stomatitis, gastroenteritis, lymphoid necrosis, and high mortality. In epidemic form, it is the most lethal plague known in cattle.

there is a picture on that site if you really want to see the necrosis and fibronecrotic exudate in the small intestine due to rinderpest, cow”.

It has been around for a long time, infecting cattle as  long ago as 8-9000 years.  Enter the Enlightment, and progress on fighting the disease.

Rural Europe was laid waste constantly until the 18th century when the number of deaths in the Papal herds so alarmed Pope Clement XI that he iynstructed his physician, Dr. Lancisi, to prescribe measures for the suppression of the plague. Lancisi concluded that it was ” Bovilltm one body to another.”] His recommendations for its containment are still valid. [Lancisi’s recommendations included slaughter to reduce spread, restricted movement of cattle, burial of whole animals in lime, and inspection of meat.]

Of course, in typical catholic fashion, the penalties were rather draconian:

guilty laymen were hung, drawn and quartered and guilty ecclesiastics were sent to the galleys.

Then it hit Africa

The pandemic that changed the fauna of Africa entered the continent in 1887 at Massawa with Indian cattle for the Italian army. The cattle were infected and the disease swept from the Horn of Africa west to the Atlantic and south to the Cape of Good Hope. The Ethiopians lost 95% of their cattle and most of the human population starved to death.

South Africa in 1897: Image courtesy of Texas A&M University/College of Veterinary Sciences

In the 1920s,  J. T. Edwards of the Imperial Bacteriological Laboratory at Izatnagar, developed an safe, effective vaccine. From there, better vaccines were developed, with the next great advance happening in 1962 when Walter Plowright and R.D. Ferris applied the methods used by Albert Sabin to develop the oral Polio vaccine to produce tissue culture rinderpest vaccine (TCRV). Plowright was later awarded the World Food Prize.

The disease was being beaten back, but regained lost ground in the 1980s.

A hidden focus erupted on the Niger River (Sudd) and spread east along the Sahel. Another focus flared up in Sudan and spread west. Two million Fulani cattle sickened and half-a-million died in Nigeria. A dreadful sequel was the high suicide rate among Fulani headmen. The Sudan outbreak also invaded Uganda and was taken to Tanzania in cattle acquired by returning soldiers. Tragically the virus spread to wildlife.

In 1994, the The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations brought together several regional rinderpest control efforts in to the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP)

This month, they declared success. Rinderpest has been declared eradicated – entirely.

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