26 May 2011

Famine-causing animal disease wiped out

9:01 am on 26 May 2011

A global effort has eradicated the cattle disease rinderpest - an infection that indirectly caused the starvation of millions of people.

At its annual gathering in Paris, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has announced the eradication from all 198 countries with susceptible animals.

Rinderpest, known before the Roman era and also called cattle plague, did not affect humans directly but caused major famines by killing hundreds of millions of cattle in Europe, Africa and Asia.

After the disease reached Africa in the 19th century, one rinderpest pandemic is estimated to have been responsible for the starvation of one-third of the human population of Ethiopia.

Many species of wild and domestic cloven-hoofed animals, including sheep and goats, showed symptoms of the disease when infected, but mortality could reach 100% in cattle or buffalo herds.

Smallpox is the only other disease to have been wiped out by humankind.

An outbreak of rinderpest in imported animals in Belgium in 1920 was the impetus for a global effort to control animal diseases, and a key factor leading to the creation in 1924 of the OIE.