Scientists have eradicated the cattle disease rinderpest, making it only the second malady ever wiped from the face of the earth. Rinderpest, which is German for cattle plague, has decimated herds in Africa, Asia, and Europe and led to human famines for centuries, The Washington Post
Scientists have managed to eradicate just one other disease, smallpox, in 1980. Quests continue to rid the world of Guinea worm disease and polio.
Rinderpest is a form of measles that affects cattle and was known in ancient China and the Roman Empire. When it arrived in Ethiopia in 1889, it caused a famine that killed one-third of the country’s population, the Post reported.
William White, a rinderpest expert at the Agriculture Department, said, “The suffering that this disease has caused through the millennia is incredible. This is probably the greatest achievement in veterinary medicine.”
The disease, which does not affect humans directly, is highly contagious and has a fatality rate of about 80 percent, the Post reported.
The last outbreak of the disease was in Kenya in 2001, and scientists have spent the past decade searching for cases in both domesticated and wild herds of hoofed animals.
The effort to eradicate smallpox took 11 years but polio is proving more difficult and the campaign, started in 1988, is now 11 years past its deadline.
Guinea worm disease is the next likely disease to be eradicated. There were 1,800 cases of the parasite-caused waterborne ailment last year in four African countries, down from 3.5 million in 1986, the Post reported.
Michael Baron, a rinderpest virologist at the Institute for Animal Health in Surrey, England, said it is somewhat easier to eradicate an animal disease. “When it came to vaccination, the cows never had a choice. But people have a choice,” he told the Post.
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