The fatal cow plague, rinderpest, is close to being eliminated in the wild. “The disease has affected Europe, Asia and Africa for centuries and has caused widespread famine and decimated millions of animals, both domestic and wild,” said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf. “In the 1880s, rinderpest caused losses of up to one million head of cattle in Russia and central Europe.” (Source: Undispatch.com) If the disease is eradicated, and it appears likely that will happen, it will be the first time humans have extinguished an animal disease in the wild.
In the 1800s, rinderpest started famines in Africa because it wiped out millions of cattle, and some wildlife. Those animals would have been used as food for humans. It has been estimated about one-third of Ethiopia’s human population starved to death due to the rinderpest triggered famine. By the middle of 2011, the disease could be eliminated, due to various international efforts lasting decades.
Rinderpest is a virus spread by physical contact and contamination of materials. Animals such as cattle, buffalo, yaks and their wild relatives have been devastated by the virus. Sometimes entire herds were wiped out in a matter of days. In the 1980s rinderpest caused $2 billion in livestock losses in Nigeria.
Rinderpest may have originated in Asia, and spread by 3,000 B.C. to Egypt, and then on to Africa. In the 1890s it killed about 80-90 percent of cattle in South Africa.
Eradication efforts using a limited amount of vaccination began in the 1700s but there wasn’t enough scientific knowledge of vaccination to make it a reliable and effective method of cow protection then. By the 1960s, vaccination was well known and stable enough it could be used effectively. Mass vaccinations have been the main method of preventing cows from contracting rinderpest.
The last confirmed documented case was in Kenya, in 2001, although it is thought the virus may have been present in parts of Somalia. If it is confirmed in 2011 rinderpest has been wiped out, it would be the second virus eradicated by humans. Smallpox was the first.
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