In only the second elimination of a disease in history, rinderpest — a virus that used to kill cattle by the millions, leading to famine and death among humans — has been declared wiped off the face of the earth.
Rinderpest, which means “cattle plague” in German, does not infect humans, though it belongs to the same viral family as measles. But for millenniums in Asia, Europe and Africa it wiped out cattle, water buffalo, yaks and other animals needed for meat, milk, plowing and cart-pulling.
Its mortality rate is about 80 percent — higher even than smallpox, the only other disease ever eliminated.
“This is something the entire global community can be proud of,” said Dr. William R. White, director of the United States Department of Agriculture’s foreign animal disease diagnostic laboratory on Plum Island, N.Y. “Rinderpest has caused almost unimaginable misery for a very long time.”
The last case was seen in Kenya in 2001. On Thursday, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization announced that it was dropping its field surveillance efforts because it was convinced that the disease was gone.