In 2011, global animal-health agencies declared rinderpest, also known as cattle plague, eradicated. Several laboratories around the world continue to maintain stocks of the rinderpest virus for research and diagnostic purposes however, and scientists with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) are calling for reduction or destruction of those stocks.

Historically, rinderpest was a highly infectious disease in cattle, causing as much as 90 percent mortality in infected herds. Development of effective vaccines and better diagnostics led to a global eradication effort, and the disease was declared eradicated in 2011, a decade after the last reported case of rinderpest in Kenya in 2001. The disease is only the second, after smallpox, to be globally eradicated through the efforts of humans.

OIE scientists conducted a survey to determine remaining stocks of the virus during 2013 to 2015, and have published their report, titled “Identifying and Reducing Remaining Stocks of Rinderpest Virus,” in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

According to the report, in 2015, of 180 OIE member countries surveyed, 24, or 13.3 percent reported holding stocks of rinderpest material in 27 facilities. The authors warn that those numbers could be underestimated, as animal health agencies in some countries could be unaware of stocks of the virus.  

The OIE warns that an outbreak of rinderpest could occur if the virus were to escape any of those facilities. Vaccination against the disease has been prohibited, and cattle populations are fully susceptible to rinderpest. Based on that risk, the report’s authors say international efforts now should focus on destroying remaining stocks or ensuring they are stored safely in a small number of approved high-containment facilities. The OIE and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization have approved five such facilities worldwide, including the Plum Island facility in New York.

Read the full article from Emerging Infectious Diseases.