World farm monitors on Wednesday declared a cattle-killing virus that has been a curse through the ages had been wiped out, the first time an animal disease has been eradicated in human history.
To prolonged applause from delegates, the global watchdog for farm-animal trade approved a report certifying that the last 14 countries of the world were free of rinderpest. Highly contagious and often fatal among bovine species but not infectious for humans, the rinderpest virus has a destructive history going back two thousand years. The disease probably originated in the steppes of Central Asia before cutting through Europe, Asia and Africa, helped by trade.
The prime weapons have been vaccines as well as routine surveillance, in which outbreaks are swiftly spotted by veterinarians and then circumscribed.
"It's a historic moment," said Bernard Vallat, director-general of the World Organization for Animal Health, the Paris-based agency which oversees veterinary health among international trade in farm animals. "The world is free of rinderpest, its virus no longer circulates among animals."
Rinderpest afflicts cattle, yaks, wildebeest and buffaloes but can also cause milder symptoms in cloven-footed animals, including sheep and goats. Animals become feverish, develop lesions in the mouth, diarrhea and dehydration. The disease has been blamed for devastating losses, borne especially by small farmers who may see their entire herd wiped out, although its impacts have also gone far beyond agriculture.
Asked to describe the achievement, veterinarians compared rinderpest eradication with that of smallpox, which was declared in 1979 to have been stamped out through a global vaccination campaign.
The last 14 countries to be declared free of the disease were Azerbaijan, the Bahamas, the Comores, Federated States of Micronesia, Gambia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Sao Tome, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emiraes.
Reprinted in part from AP