Cattle plague's defeat holds valuable lessons

July 4, 2011
CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) in Geelong, Victoria. (CSIRO)

(PhysOrg.com) -- Lessons learned from the recently successful 50-year campaign to rid the world of cattle plague (rinderpest), could assist in controlling other devastating diseases such as foot and mouth disease, according to world renowned veterinarian, Dr Peter Roeder.

The Secretary of the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP) from 2000 to 2007, Dr Roeder, will discuss the success of the campaign – regarded as one of the most important achievements in veterinary history – when he presents CSIRO’s Snowdon Lecture in Melbourne today.

"This is the first time that humans have succeeded in wiping out an animal disease in the wild, and only the second time, after smallpox in 1980, that a disease has been eliminated thanks to human efforts," Dr Roeder said.

plague characteristically causes fever, oral erosions, diarrhoea, lymphoid necrosis and high mortality in affected animals. 

"Although it does not directly affect humans, it has the ability to cause swift, massive losses of cattle and other hoofed animals, leading to devastating effects on agriculture and national economies. 

"Reflection on the remarkable achievement in eradicating this disease allows lessons to be drawn from the process, which are also applicable to the control of other transboundary animal diseases," Dr Roeder said.

CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) Director, Professor Martyn Jeggo – who spent 17 years involved in GREP while working for the United Nations – said knowledge gained from the campaign's success would enhance Australia's ability to manage livestock diseases. 

"Australia has its own history of successes with the eradication of a number of livestock diseases, including brucellosis and tuberculosis," Professor Jeggo said.

"Most recently the successful eradication of horse flu was a remarkable national achievement. 

"As we move forward we can further learn from the rinderpest eradication process and how to apply this in the context of our own disease challenges both now and in the future."

Named in honour of CSIRO AAHL Foundation Chief, Dr Bill Snowdon, the biannual Snowdon Lecture has been presented by many world leading scientists and veterinarians over the past two decades.

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