Within 18 months, another disease will be completely removed from the planet and this one specifically harms animals.

Rinderpest—a disease that is particularly harmful to cattle—will become the second disease to be eradicated from the world. The first disease that was ever removed was smallpox, in 1980. The Cattle Plague (as it’s commonly known) has wiped out millions of cattle and wildlife across the planet, spreading through outbreaks and invasions since the 4th century. This disease is caused by the morvillivirus—a viral group that shares another well-known illness: the measles. Symptoms of rinderpest include: fever, eye and nose discharge, diarrhea and dehydration. To make things worse, this plague will kill between 80 and 90% of infected cattle within a week.


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Chief veterinary officer for the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in Rome, Juan Lubroth, claims that “Rinderpest tops the list of killer diseases [in animals],” and it’s certainly understandable why. Not only does it kill cattle, it also kills wildlife and considering the numbers that can be wiped out within a week, it also has been a major cause of famine. Without have enough animals, it makes it even more difficult for developing countries to plough their fields or hunt or anything of the sort (as if they don’t have enough problems from tsunamis already).

For years, there have been international efforts and programs working around the clock to eradicate this disease; one of the leading efforts being the launch of the Global Rinderpest Eradication Program by FAO and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The program’s success depended entirely on vaccination programs and monitoring of the animals. Luckily for them, a breakthrough happened in the 1980s, thanks to a heat-stable vaccine that could contain the virus.

However, even with a working vaccine, there are still some obstacles along the way. Yes, the vaccine can provide life-long protection, but it still contains the live virus. Any animal that is tested will show as having antibodies fighting the virus, so that will make it difficult to tell which are actually infected and which have been vaccinated. How will they separate the two? They will have to place most of the study on the calves.

Cows pass antibodies to their young through milk. In order to evaluate any possible eradication, the vaccinations will have to stop for 2 years and any calf under 2 years of age must be tested. This brings up an even bigger challenge: getting to the cattle in order to monitor them in the first place. According to Chris Oura (head of the Non-Vesicular Disease Reference Laboratory Group at the Institute for Animal Health):

“It’s a huge task when you have the virus in developing countries and war zones, such as Somalia, to carry out monitoring and surveillance.”

In 18 months, Lubroth expects that FAO and OIE will make an official declaration of the eradication of rinderpest. Why so long? Director-general Bernard Vallat, of the OIE, claims it’s because they are still waiting on the final test and surveillance results from 12 countries. Plus, they need to conduct an inventory of all the world governments and laboratories that are keeping stock of the virus.

It will certainly be great if they can remove a disease that is harmful for animals. Now if only they could do something about the common cold…