Eliminating the remains of an eradicated virus
The cattle plague, or rinderpest, is eradicated in the wild, but stocks of the virus remain in “an unacceptably high number of facilities and countries.”
Officials from the World Organisation for Animal Health published that assessment in the December issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases. In their article, “Identifying and reducing remaining stocks of rinderpest virus,” they describe a need to account for rinderpest materials distributed to diagnostic laboratories, vaccine makers, and researchers during the eradication campaign leading up to the 2011 declaration the world was free of the disease.
“Today an outbreak of rinderpest could occur only if infectious material held in these laboratories and other institutions were accidentally released into a susceptible animal population or if animals were deliberately infected,” the report states.
The authors noted that vaccination against the disease has ended worldwide, and all cattle populations are naive.
Today an outbreak of rinderpest could occur only if infectious material held in these laboratories and other institutions were accidentally released into a susceptible animal population or if animals were deliberately infected.
"Identifying and reducing remaining stocks of rinderpest virus" (Emerg Infect Dis 2015;21:2117-2121)
Rinderpest is considered responsible for hundreds of millions of animal deaths over centuries, and it has been linked with famines and the establishment of the world’s first veterinary school. The OIE wants to limit distribution of remaining rinderpest virus to a small number of facilities that meet OIE standards for biological security.
A related video available on YouTube from the OIE and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations advocates that countries destroy rinderpest virus stocks, noting that some are kept in laboratories with inadequate biological safeguards.
“The only way a rinderpest outbreak could occur today is if the virus escaped from a laboratory as a result of an accident, negligence, or a deliberate act,” the video narrator says.
Recurrence would undermine decades of work and investment, disrupt trade, ruin livelihoods, damage national economies, and increase food prices, he states.
“Millions could be affected by malnutrition or hunger,” the narrator states. “This, as has happened in the past, could lead to social unrest, making the world a more dangerous place.”
At least 24 OIE member countries had rinderpest virus in some form in 2015, with 23 keeping live virus. The EID article states that all 180 member countries had responded to the OIE’s request for information on rinderpest stocks, but some of those countries could be storing stocks unknown to national reporting authorities.
The authors, citing the discovery in July 2014 of vials containing smallpox virus at a U.S. Food and Drug Administration laboratory in Bethesda, Maryland, called for continued search for unidentified or unknown rinderpest materials. The smallpox vials found in the FDA laboratory appeared to date from the 1950s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since eradication, “the value and justification for maintaining rinderpest material for research are minimal,” the report states. The risk of release from laboratories and into susceptible animals is low but real.
Even accidental administration of a rinderpest vaccine could cause alarm if animals were to become seropositive and were tested during surveillance, the report states.
Related JAVMA content:
Rinderpest eradicated (July 1, 2011)