Another Global Disease Bites the Dust?


A deadly animal virus, known for killing 80-90 percent of infected cattle in as little as 7 days, is on the verge of extinction. Rinderpest, a relative of measles, is a threat to humans as well as domesticated livestock. Not because it can jump species, but because of the famines it leaves in its wake.

Now, thanks to an extensive program of vaccination and surveillance begun in 1994, the World Organisation for Animal Health reports that we may have seen the last of Rinderpest. According to an article in Nature, the last known cases of the disease were in Kenya in 2001. Experts are holding off on a formal "In Your Face, Virus!" announcement, but if all goes well over the next 18 months, Rinderpest will become the second disease (after Smallpox) to be completely eradicated by human public health efforts. Go us!

BTW: The name "Rinderpest", which is fabulously poetically awesome, is derived from the German for "cattle plague".

Nature News: Deadliest Animal Disease on the Brink of Eradication
(Thanks, Tara Smith!)

Image courtesy Flickr user foxypar4, via CC


  1. Farmers playing fast and loose with their cattle’s health… they should know better! Those veterinarians are just shills for Big Pharma! Don’t they know about the merits of strengthening a cow’s immune system rather than pumping them full of drugs?


    That’s irony, right?

    I find it so hard to tell these days, the real anti-vaxxers use such crazy arguments so often they’ve started to turn into a self-parody.

    1. Yes, that was me being sarcastic.

      I’m surprised we haven’t heard any screams of outrage against rinderpest vaccinations from celebrity Jenny McCowthy.

  3. For the record, my previous comment translates to, “You are all awesome and I heart you.”

  4. As a German, I don’t understand why the name “Rinderpest” is “fabulously poetically awesome”.

    Also, it is very insensitive. I haven’t heard of cows being amused by the fabulously poetical awesomeness of AIDS!

    1. As a German, I don’t understand why the name “Rinderpest” is “fabulously poetically awesome”.

      That’s why you don’t. If you were a native speaker of English with no familiarity with the German language, you would. For one thing, ‘rind’ in English means the skin of certain fruits, and a certain kind of fried pig fat is called a “pork rind.” ‘Pest’, also, has a different meaning in English; it means something that causes trouble or is annoying, rather than a devastating disease. Applied to a person it means someone who keeps bothering you; there’s a verb ‘pester’ that means “continually nag or harass.”

      She’s commenting on the resonances of the name in English, that’s all.

      Also, it is very insensitive. I haven’t heard of cows being amused by the fabulously poetical awesomeness of AIDS!

      And if any actual cattle are reading this blog and express offense, no doubt they will get an apology.

        1. Indeed, cattle aren’t generally known for hypersensitivity on topics like this. Or much of anything, really.

          A thick-skinned bunch. *ducks, flees*

  5. The important part not being discussed here is that the World Organization for Animal Health can be acronymized as WOAH.

  6. I suppose it is kind of sad that seeing this news most of our brains jump to Jenny McCarthism of vaccinations (mine sure did).

    However back to the topic and real science, that is pretty amazing.

    Coincidentally I happened to be reading a news article just before reading boingboing on Autism/Schizophrenia research with an interesting hypothesis that the two are opposite conditions from changes to the underlying genetic and developmental pathways.

    the news article:

    the abstract:

  7. This reminds me of Die Toten Hosen’s classic “Zehn kleine Jägermeister”, which I listened to while taking German in college; there’s a reference to Mad Cow Disease, which auf Deutsch is called Rinderwahn. I always thought that was a much better name.

    Also, the German for beef is Rindfleisch. Evocative!

  8. Another Global Disease Bites the Dust?

    That would make, what, two now? I mean smallpox comes to mind, but I’m having trouble thinking of any other diseases that have been eradicated from vaccinations.

    Have there been others?

    In the 1950’s the medical establishment scientists testified before congress that, in all likelihood, all disease would be eradicated by the 21st century. I think they’re a little behind schedule!

    It seems like for every disease that is rendered irrelevant, some number (1 or greater) of diseases spring up to take it’s place. Don’t get me wrong: I’m thankful that I (and my children) are vaccinated against things like polio, but something in the approach seems somewhat flawed regardless.

  9. It should be noted that although smallpox is officially eradicated, labs in the U.S. and Russia still have samples of the virus. (Scroll down the Wikipedia page for lists of famous sufferers and survivors; I knew that George Washington had contracted it (portraits of him didn’t show his pock marks, which is a plot point in the Illuminatus trilogy), but didn’t know that Lincoln had it as well.

  10. One reason many diseases cannot be eradicated is because they exist in tropical areas without electricity. Most vaccinations are heat-sensitive and lose their potency quickly if exposed to temperatures greater than ~60 degrees. The vaccination that allowed tropical cattle in very remote parts of Africa is not heat-sensitive, and was invented by one of my professors at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Jeffrey Mariner DVM.

  11. If there were any diseases that infected only passenger pigeons, then they became extinct a long time ago.

    But more seriously, in the 1890’s, rinderpest hit Africa, killing 30%-90% of the various types of cattle and other such animals. This caused famines and widespread deaths among the various herdsman tribes and opened the way for easier European exploitation.

    This comes from memory and
    The Cambridge History of Africa, vol 6, pg 689

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