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rinderpest, rinderpest disease
Rinderpest also cattle plague or steppe murrain was an infectious viral disease of cattle, domestic buffalo, and some other species of even-toed ungulates, including buffaloes, large antelope and deer, giraffes, wildebeests, and warthogs1 The disease was characterized by fever, oral erosions, diarrhea, lymphoid necrosis, and high mortality Death rates during outbreaks were usually extremely high, approaching 100% in immunologically naïve populations2 Rinderpest was mainly transmitted by direct contact and by drinking contaminated water, although it could also be transmitted by air3 After a global eradication campaign, the last confirmed case of rinderpest was diagnosed in 20014

On 14 October 2010, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization FAO announced that field activities in the decades-long, worldwide campaign to eradicate the disease were ending, paving the way for a formal declaration in June 2011 of the global eradication of rinderpest5 On 25 May 2011, the World Organisation for Animal Health announced the free status of the last eight countries not yet recognized a total of 198 countries were now free of the disease, officially declaring the eradication of the disease6 In June 2011, the United Nations FAO confirmed the disease was eradicated, making rinderpest only the second disease in history to be fully wiped out outside of laboratory stocks, following smallpox7

Rinderpest is believed to have originated in Asia, later spreading through the transport of cattle8 The term Rinderpest is a German word meaning "cattle-plague"18 The rinderpest virus RPV was closely related to the measles and canine distemper viruses9 The measles virus emerged from rinderpest as a zoonotic disease between 1000 and 1100 AD, a period that may have been preceded by limited outbreaks involving a virus not yet fully acclimated to humans10


  • 1 Virus
  • 2 Disease
  • 3 History
    • 31 Origins
    • 32 Epizootics
    • 33 Inoculation
      • 331 Early English experimentation
      • 332 Further trials in the Netherlands
      • 333 In other countries
    • 34 In ethnography
    • 35 Vaccination
  • 4 Eradication
  • 5 Use as a biological weapon
  • 6 See also
  • 7 References
  • 8 Footnotes
  • 9 External links


Rinderpest virus RPV, a member of the genus Morbillivirus, is closely related to the measles and canine distemper viruses9 Like other members of the Paramyxoviridae family, it produces enveloped virions, and is a negative-sense single-stranded RNA virus The virus was particularly fragile and is quickly inactivated by heat, desiccation and sunlight11

Measles virus evolved from the then-widespread rinderpest virus most probably between the 11th and 12th centuries10 The earliest likely origin is during the seventh century; some linguistic evidence exists for this earlier origin1213


A cow with rinderpest in the "milk fever" position, 1982

Death rates during outbreaks were usually extremely high, approaching 100% in immunologically naïve populations2 The disease was mainly spread by direct contact and by drinking contaminated water, although it could also be transmitted by air3

Initial symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, and nasal and eye discharges Subsequently, irregular erosions appear in the mouth, the lining of the nose, and the genital tract2 Acute diarrhea, preceded by constipation, is also a common feature3 Most animals die six to twelve days after the onset of these clinical signs2



The disease is believed to have originated in Asia, later spreading through the transport of cattle8 Other cattle epizootics are noted in ancient times: a cattle plague is thought to be one of the ten plagues of Egypt described in the Hebrew Bible By around 3,000 BC, a cattle plague had reached Egypt, and rinderpest later spread throughout the remainder of Africa, following European colonization8


Main article: Epizootic Rinderpest outbreak in 18th-century Netherlands Cows dead from rinderpest in South Africa, 1896

Cattle plagues recurred throughout history, often accompanying wars and military campaigns They hit Europe especially hard in the 18th century, with three long panzootics which, although varying in intensity and duration from region to region, took place in the periods of 1709–1720, 1742–1760, and 1768–178614 There was a major outbreak covering the whole of Britain in 1865/66 Later in history, an outbreak in the 1890s killed 80 to 90% of all cattle in southern Africa, as well as in the Horn of Africa Sir Arnold Theiler was instrumental in developing a vaccine that curbed the epizootic More recently, a rinderpest outbreak raged across much of Africa in 1982–1984, costing at least an estimated US$500 million in stock losses


In the early 18th century, the disease was seen as similar to smallpox, due to its analogous symptoms The personal physician of the Pope, Giovanni Maria Lancisi, recommended the slaughter of all infected and exposed animals This policy was not very popular and used only sparingly in the first part of the century Later, it was used successfully in several countries, although it was sometimes seen as too costly or drastic, and depended on a strong central authority to be effective something which was notably lacking in the Dutch Republic Because of these downsides, numerous attempts were made to inoculate animals against the disease These attempts met with varying success, but the procedure was not widely used and was no longer practiced at all in 19th-century Western or Central Europe Rinderpest was an immense problem, but inoculation was not a valid solution: In many cases, it caused too many losses Even more importantly, it perpetuated the circulation of the virus in the cattle population The pioneers of inoculation did contribute significantly to knowledge about infectious diseases Their experiments confirmed the concepts of those who saw infectious diseases as caused by specific agents, and were the first to recognize maternally derived immunity9

Early English experimentationedit

The first written report of rinderpest inoculation was published in a letter signed 'TS' in the November 1754 issue of The Gentleman's Magazine,9 a widely read journal which also supported the progress of smallpox inoculation This letter reported that a Mr Dobsen had inoculated his cattle and had thus preserved 9 out of 10 of them, although this was retracted in the next issue, as it was apparently a Sir William St Quintin who had done the inoculating this was done by placing bits of material previously dipped in morbid discharge into an incision made in the dewlap of the animal These letters encouraged further application of inoculation in the fight against diseases The first inoculation against measles was made three years after their publication9

From early 1755 onwards, experiments were taking place in the Netherlands, as well, results of which were also published in The Gentleman's Magazine As in England, the disease was seen as analogous with smallpox While these experiments were reasonably successful, they did not have a significant impact: The total number of inoculations in England appears to have been very limited, and after 1780, the English interest in inoculation disappeared almost entirely9 Almost all further experimentation was done in the Netherlands, northern Germany and Denmark

Further trials in the Netherlandsedit

Due to a very severe outbreak at the end of the 1760s, some of the best-known names in Dutch medicine became involved in the struggle against the disease Several independent trials were begun, most notably by Pieter Camper in Groningen and Friesland The results of his experiment in Friesland were encouraging, but they proved to be the exception: testing by others in the provinces of Utrecht, Leeuwarden and Friesland obtained disastrous results As a result, the Frisian authorities concluded in 1769 that the cause of rinderpest was God's displeasure with the sinful behavior of the Frisian people, and proclaimed 15 November a day of fasting and prayer Interest in inoculation declined sharply across the country9

In this climate of discouragement and scepticism, Geert Reinders, a farmer in the province of Groningen and a self-taught man, decided to continue the experiments He collaborated with Wijnold Munniks, who had supervised earlier trials They tried different inoculation procedures and a variety of treatments to lighten the symptoms, all of them without significant effect Although they were not able to perfect the inoculation procedure, they did make some useful observations9

Reinders resumed his experiments in 1774, concentrating on the inoculation of calves from cows that had recovered from rinderpest He was probably the first to make practical use of maternally derived immunity9 The detailed results of his trials were published in 1776 and reprinted in 1777 His inoculation procedure did not differ much from what had been used previously, except for the use of three separate inoculations at an early age This produced far better results, and the publication of his work renewed interest in inoculation For the period of 1777 to 1781, 89% of inoculated animals survived, compared to a 29% survival rate after natural infection9

In the Netherlands, too, interest in rinderpest inoculation declined in the 1780s because the disease itself decreased in intensity

In other countriesedit

Apart from the Dutch Republic, the only other regions where inoculation was used to any significant level were northern Germany and Denmark Experiments started in Mecklenburg during the epizootic of the late 1770s 'Insurance companies' were created which provided inoculation in special 'institutes' Although these were private initiatives, they were created with full encouragement from the authorities Even though neighboring states followed this practice with interest, the practice never caught on outside of Mecklenburg; many were still opposed to inoculation9

While some experimentation occurred in other countries most extensively in Denmark, in the majority of European countries, the struggle against the disease was based on stamping it out Sometimes this could be done with minimal sacrifices; at other times, it required slaughter at a massive scale9

In 1917-18, Dr William Hutchins Boynton 1881-1959 the chief veterinary pathologist with the Philippine Bureau of Agriculture developed an early vaccine for rinderpest, based on treated animal organ extracts1516

In ethnographyedit

In his classic study of the Nuer of southern Sudan, E E Evans-Pritchard suggested rinderpest might have affected the Nuer's social organization before and during the 1930s Since the Nuer were pastoralists, much of their livelihood was based on cattle husbandry, and bride-prices were paid in cattle; prices may have changed as a result of cattle depletion Rinderpest might also have increased dependence on horticulture among the Nuer17


Dr Walter Plowright was awarded the World Food Prize in 1999 for developing a vaccine against rinderpest Development work on the Plowright vaccine for the RBOK strain of the rinderpest virus lasted from about 1956 to 196218

In 1999, the FAO predicted that with vaccination, rinderpest would be eradicated by 201019


Widespread eradication efforts took place as soon as the early 1900s; in 1924, the World Organisation for Animal Health OIE was formed in response to rinderpest20 Until the mid-1900s, eradication efforts largely took place on an individual country basis, using vaccination campaigns20 In 1950, the Inter-African Bureau of Epizootic Diseases was formed, with the stated goal of eliminating rinderpest from Africa20 During the 1960s, a program called JP 15 attempted to vaccinate all cattle in participating countries; by 1979, only one of the countries involved, Sudan, reported cases of rinderpest20

In 1969, an outbreak of the disease originated in Afghanistan, travelling westwards and promoting a mass vaccination plan, which, by 1972, had eliminated rinderpest in all areas of Asia except for Lebanon and India; both countries were the site of further occurrences of the disease in the 1980s20

During the 1980s, however, an outbreak of rinderpest from Sudan spread throughout Africa, killing millions of cattle, as well as wildlife20 In response, the Pan-African Rinderpest Campaign was initiated in 1987, using vaccination and surveillance to combat the disease20 By the 1990s, nearly all of Africa, with the exception of parts of Sudan and Somalia, was declared free of rinderpest20

Worldwide, the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme was initiated in 1994, supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization, the OIE, and the International Atomic Energy Agency20 This program was successful in reducing rinderpest outbreaks to few and far between by the late 1990s20 The program is estimated to have saved affected farmers 58 million net Euro21

The last confirmed case of rinderpest was reported in Kenya in 200122 Since then, while there have been no confirmed cases, the disease is believed to have been present in parts of Somalia past that date22 The final vaccinations were administered in 2006, and the last surveillance operations took place in 2009, failing to find any evidence of the disease22

In 2008, scientists involved in rinderpest eradication efforts believed there was a good chance that rinderpest would join smallpox as officially "wiped off the face of the planet"4 The Food and Agriculture Organization, which had been co-ordinating the global eradication program for the disease, announced in November 2009 that it expected the disease to be eradicated within 18 months23

In October 2010, the FAO announced it was confident the disease has been eradicated5 The agency said that "as of mid 2010, FAO is confident that the rinderpest virus has been eliminated from Europe, Asia, Middle East, Arabian Peninsula, and Africa," which were the locations in which the virus had been last reported5 Eradication was confirmed by the World Organization for Animal Health on 25 May 20116

On 28 June 2011, FAO and its members countries officially recognized global freedom from the deadly cattle virus On this day, the FAO Conference, the highest body of the UN agency, adopted a resolution declaring the eradication of rinderpest The resolution also called on the world community to follow up by ensuring that samples of rinderpest viruses and vaccines be kept under safe laboratory conditions and that rigorous standards for disease surveillance and reporting be applied "While we are celebrating one of the greatest successes for FAO and its partners, I wish to remind you that this extraordinary achievement would not have been possible without the joint efforts and strong commitments of governments, the main organizations in Africa, Asia and Europe, and without the continuous support of donors and international institutions", FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf commented24

The rinderpest eradication effort is estimated to have cost $5 billion25

Stocks of the rinderpest virus are still maintained by highly specialized laboratories22 In 2015, FAO launched a campaign calling for the destruction or sequestering of the remaining stocks of rinderpest virus in laboratories in 24 different countries, claiming risks of inadvertent or malicious release26

Use as a biological weaponedit

Rinderpest was one of more than a dozen agents the United States researched as potential biological weapons before terminating its biological weapons program27 Rinderpest is of concern as a biological weapon for the following reasons:

  • The disease has high rates of morbidity and mortality
  • The disease is highly communicable and spreads rapidly once introduced into nonimmune herds
  • Cattle herds are no longer immunized against RPV and therefore are susceptible to infection28

Rinderpest was also considered as a biological weapon in the United Kingdom's program during World War II29

See alsoedit

  • Viruses portal
  • Ovine rinderpest
  • Rift Valley fever
  • Murrain


  • Spinage, Clive A 2003 Cattle Plague: A History New York: Springer ISBN 978-0-306-47789-8 OCLC 52178719 Retrieved February 25, 2017 


  1. ^ a b Donald G McNeil Jr 27 June 2011 "Rinderpest, Scourge of Cattle, Is Vanquished" The New York Times Retrieved 28 June 2011 
  2. ^ a b c d "Exotic animal diseases - Rinderpest" dpiqldgovau Archived from the original on March 30, 2010 Retrieved 2010-10-15 
  3. ^ a b c "Rinderpest - the toll and treatment of a plague" Food and Agriculture Organization FAO 1996 Archived from the original on 1997-06-09 
  4. ^ a b Dennis Normile 2008 "Driven to Extinction" Science 319 5870: 1606–1609 PMID 18356500 doi:101126/science31958701606 Retrieved 2009-03-28 
  5. ^ a b c "UN 'confident' disease has been wiped out" BBC News 14 October 2010 Retrieved 14 October 2010 
  6. ^ a b "No More Deaths From Rinderpest" Press release World Organisation for Animal Health Retrieved 25 May 2011 
  7. ^ McNeil Jr, Donald G 27 June 2011 "Rinderpest, a Centuries-Old Animal Disease, Is Eradicated" The New York Times 
  8. ^ a b c d Donald G McNeil Jr 15 October 2010 "Virus Deadly in Livestock Is No More, UN Declares" The New York Times Retrieved 15 October 2010 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Huygelen, C 1997 "The immunization of cattle against rinderpest in eighteenth-century Europe" Medical History 41 2: 182–196 PMC 1043905  PMID 9156464 doi:101017/s0025727300062372 
  10. ^ a b Furuse, Yuki; Akira Suzuki; Hitoshi Oshitani 2010-03-04 "Origin of measles virus: divergence from rinderpest virus between the 11th and 12th centuries" Virology Journal 7: 52 ISSN 1743-422X PMC 2838858  PMID 20202190 doi:101186/1743-422X-7-52 
  11. ^ "Rinderpest" Disease Facts Institute for Animal Health Archived from the original on June 26, 2009 Retrieved 2010-10-15 
  12. ^ Griffin DE In: Fields VIROLOGY 5 Knipe DM, Howley PM, editor Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2007 Measles Virus
  13. ^ McNeil W Plagues and Peoples New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday 1976
  14. ^ Broad, J 1983 "Cattle Plague in Eighteenth-Century England" PDF Agricultural History Review 31 2: 104–115 Retrieved 2013-09-17 
  15. ^ Boynton, WH 1917 "Preliminary report on the virulence of certain body organs in riderpest" Philippine Agricultural Review 10 4: 410–433 
  16. ^ Boynton, WH 1918 "Use of organ extracts instead of virulent blood in immunization and hyperimmunization against rinderpest" Philippine Journal of Science 13 3: 151–158 
  17. ^ Evans-Pritchard, E E 1940 The Nuer: A description of the modes of livelihood and political institutions of a Nilotic people Oxford University Press 
  18. ^ Plowright, W; Ferris, R D 1962 "Studies with rinderpest virus in tissue culture The use of attenuated culture virus as a vaccine for cattle" Res Vet Sci 3: 172–182 
  19. ^ "EMPRES Transboundary Animal Diseases Bulletin No 11 - Rinderpest" Food and Agriculture Organization FAO 1923-07-20 Retrieved 2010-10-15 
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "History of battle against rinderpest" International Atomic Energy Association Retrieved 15 October 2010 
  21. ^ Tambi, EN; Maina, OW; Mukhebi, AW; Randolph, TF 1999 "Economic impact assessment of rinderpest control in Africa" Rev Sci Tech 18 2: 458–77 PMID 10472679 doi:1020506/rst1821164 
  22. ^ a b c d Sample, Ian 14 October 2010 "Scientists eradicate deadly rinderpest virus" The Guardian London Retrieved 15 October 2010 
  23. ^ Platt, John 30 November 2009 "Cattle plague: An extinction worth celebrating" Scientific American Retrieved 30 November 2009 
  24. ^ "Rinderpest eradicated, what's next" Press release Food and Agriculture Organization FAO 28 June 2011 Retrieved 30 June 2011 
  25. ^ McNeil Jr, Donald G 27 June 2011 "Rinderpest" New York Times 
  26. ^ "Mantaining global freedom from Rinderpest" Press release Food and Agriculture Organization FAO 1 November 2015 Retrieved 23 November 2016 
  27. ^ "Chemical and Biological Weapons: Possession and Programs Past and Present", James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury College, April 9, 2002 Retrieved November 14, 2008
  28. ^ CIDRAP >> Rinderpest
  29. ^ Bowcott, Owen; Evans, Rob 16 May 2010 "British secret biological warfare testing" The Guardian London 

External linksedit

  • The IAEA's activities with rinderpest
  • Rinderpest reviewed and published by WikiVet
  • FAO Maintaining Global Freedom from "Rinderpest"
  • OIE "Rinderpest" disease card

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