Deadly Animal Disease Months from Extinction

happy cow photo

Image credit: erix!/Flickr

Rinderpest, the world's most deadly animal disease, will be completely eradicated in 18 months, a new report claims. When successful, the disease will become the second to be driven to practical extinction in the world. Smallpox, which was eradicated in 1980, was the first.

The disease, caused by the morbillivirus, has killed countless cattle since it was first introduced to the Roman Empire around 376 AD. It has also been responsible for severe famines, particularly in Africa, after decimating herds used for food and plowing.Several eradication efforts have been mounted in the past, but all were ended prematurely, allowing the disease to rebound. This latest effort, initiated in 1996, has been successful thanks to a heat-resistant vaccine that can be transported easily across great distances.

Once a cow has been vaccinated, it passes the antibodies on to its offspring. This is a benefit in the fight against the disease, but it creates challenges for scientists compiling surveys of its existence. Because the vaccine uses live virus, diagnostic tests have trouble distinguishing between a vaccinated animal and one that is actually infected.

It's likely, researchers argue, that Rinderpest has already been eradicated. They must wait for complete survey results, however, before they make an official declaration. Currently, there are 12 countries that still have reports outstanding. Researchers expect to have complete results within 18 months.

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