Monday, 18 October 2010

Another virus eradicated

A few days ago a joint FAO/OIE announcement astounded me.
Rinderpest, a devastating cattle plague, is set to become the first animal virus to be globally eradicated by man. Although it does not infect humans, the virus can wipe out entire livestock herds in days. This has caused famines for many centuries throughout the world.
I first heard of it when working on the digitisation of the India Papers veterinary material; the first book to be scanned was the Report on the Calcutta epizootic or cattle disease of 1864 in Calcutta and its neighbourhood. In Britain 400,000 cattle perished in the Great Cattle Plague of 1865-67 when rinderpest entered the country from the Baltic.
It is clear from the Indian veterinary reports that rinderpest was a serious threat to the Government cattle farms, established to provide dairy products to the colonial army. However, the mid-nineteenth century witnessed a revolution in health sciences, and veterinary science played a key role. The rinderpest virus was discovered in Turkey in 1902 by Nicolle and Adil-Bey.
The Indian Journal of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry (1931-1959) is a fine example of the extensive bacteriological study of animal diseases. Understanding and preventing rinderpest was begun by scientists long ago; it is amazing to consider that, like smallpox, this virus is no longer at large.

(Picture is a typical plate from the Indian Journal, showing examples of Indian cattle.)
The Medical History of British India web feature will be updated in 2011 with over 35,000 pages of veterinary reports.

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