Too many laboratories still have samples of the devastating
cattle disease rinderpest two years after it was eradicated, only the second
disease after smallpox to be wiped out, the World Organisation for Animal
Member countries of the organisation, known as the OIE,
committed to destroy their samples or pass them on to a handful of approved
high-security laboratories when the world was declared free of rinderpest in
2011.But two years later, 25 laboratories still have samples, OIE Director
General Bernard Vallat told Reuters. He declined to give details about where.
Plague didn’t affect
Rinderpest, or cattle plague, did not affect humans directly
but decimated hundreds of millions of cattle across Asia, Europe and Africa. As
with smallpox, the aim was to leave only a few samples in high-security
laboratories for research or for vaccination in case the disease re-emerged.
"If you release these materials into the wild, they can
touch sensitive species and re-trigger a global animal disease even more so
that there are no animals vaccinated anymore," Vallat said.
"It would be a
disaster if it happened."Scientists argue they need samples for research
and would be vulnerable to bioterrorist attack without them to produce vaccines
in case, for example, a country or group still has the virus.
However leaving too many samples around, in possibly
insecure locations, was an unacceptable risk, Vallat said."We have no blue
helmet," he said, referring to the headgear worn by UN
peacekeepers."I cannot guarantee that some countries that have the virus
did not declare it. Some countries may refuse to be transparent due to
political ulterior motives," he said, declining to name any countries.
UN reached out to
support the disease
The Paris-based OIE (Office International des Epizooties)
owes its existence to rinderpest: an outbreak of the disease in imported
animals in Belgium in 1920 was the impetus for international cooperation in
controlling animal diseases and the OIE's creation in 1924.The disease, eradicated
with support from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), is believed
to have been brought to Europe by Moghul invaders in the 13th century, the OIE
Many species of wild and domestic cloven-hoofed animals,
including sheep and goats, only showed symptoms of the disease when infected,
but mortality reached up to 100% in cattle or buffalo herds.
The Americas and Oceania never faced rinderpest epidemics. As
in the case of rinderpest, it was a global campaign that led to the eradication
of smallpox, a highly contagious human disease that killed Queen Mary II of
England and Louis XV of France and threatened 60% of the world's population
until a vaccine was found in the 1950s.
Only two high-security laboratories still have samples of
smallpox after it eradicated in late 1979 - the US Centers for Disease
Control in Atlanta, Georgia, and Russia's State Research Centre of Virology and
Biotechnology in Koltsovo, Novosibirsk. A joint advisory committee between the 178-member
OIE and the FAO on rinderpest advised late last year that strategic rinderpest
vaccine stores be maintained in selected locations should the disease reoccur.