By Greg Cima
As world animal health authorities prepare to declare that the "cattle plague" has been eradicated, they are picking their next targets.
Officials with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) expect to declare this year that rinderpest has been eradicated. It would be the second disease after smallpox to be wiped out through human efforts. Information from the FAO and OIE indicates the last animals known to have the disease were buffalo found to be infected in 2001 in Kenya's Meru National Park, but OIE information also states that inconclusive laboratory investigations prevented health officials from determining whether a 2003 disease outbreak in cattle in Kenya's Garissa district was connected with rinderpest.
Despite the differing accounts, Kenya was declared free of infection in 2009 by the OIE.
Rinderpest infections in hooved animals is associated with fever, ocular and nasal discharge, profuse salivation, intense thirst, loss of appetite, labored respiration, mucosal erosions, diarrhea, and mortality rates that can top 90 percent in naive herds, according to FAO information and the book "Rinderpest and Peste des Petits Ruminants: Virus Plagues of Large and Small Ruminants."
Dr. Bernard Vallat, director general of the OIE, said foot-and-mouth disease and peste des petits ruminants are candidates for the next global eradication campaigns.
The organization first began considering FMD as the next eradication target. That effort would involve use of several vaccines to combat at least seven viral strains, Dr. Vallat said. Peste des petits ruminants, like rinderpest, is caused by a single viral strain worldwide and there is an effective vaccine, but eradication of either disease could still take 50 years, he said.
The new eradication efforts will depend on commitments from financial donors, and Dr. Vallat expressed concern that donors may not be as engaged in eradicating diseases limited to animals as they would be for zoonoses. However, the OIE plans to have a global conference with potential donors in June 2012. The location has not been chosen, but Dr. Vallat expects the conference will be located in Asia.
Rinderpest devastated affected areas
The OIE is expected to adopt in May 2011 and the FAO to endorse in June a resolution indicating rinderpest has been eradicated. The disease has been cited as a cause of famines, starvation, civil unrest, and the deaths of millions of animals in Asia, Europe, and Africa, according to the previously cited book. Control of rinderpest was considered, about the end of the 19th century, to be a measure of a country's veterinary services, and it is associated with the foundation of both the OIE and the world's first veterinary school, in Lyon, France.
"In effect, the necessity to control rinderpest led to the founding of the veterinary profession," the book states. "This was followed by the establishment of state veterinary services in European countries to regulate and enforce its control."
Dr. Vallat saw thousands of cattle die from rinderpest infection during a campaign to control and eliminate the disease in Africa during the 1980s, and he said the deletion of such a potential biological disaster shows the important impact and capability of the veterinary profession.
"I think that the veterinary profession can use this event as a very important success story to demonstrate its capacity to fight animal disease," Dr. Vallat said. "It is a great victory for the profession."