Rinderpest is a notifiable and very serious viral disease of ruminants. Infection occurs through direct contact or intensive indirect contact between sick and susceptible animals. Since 2011, the entire world has been officially declared free of rinderpest. Wageningen Bioveterinary Research (WBVR) performs diagnostics for this disease.

Notifiable means that suspicions of a rinderpest infection must be reported to the NVWA. Rinderpest is a “Categorie A” disease (Animal Health Law). The disease is caused by rinderpest virus (RPV, family of Paramyxoviridae, genus: Morbillivirus).

The mortality rate for susceptible animals is over 90%. The virulence (pathogenic potential) varies between virus variants and differs per animal species. In goats, the natural immunity also depends on the breed. since 2003, no infections have been reported worldwide.

Rinderpest has not occurred in the Netherlands for a very long time. Rinderpest is the first animal disease to be eradicated worldwide.

Clinical signs rinderpest

Clinical signs appeared after an incubation period of 3 to 10 days. The majority of infections leads to disease. In addition to cattle, sheep and goats also become sick. Many wild ruminants such as elk, kudus, wildebeest, antelope and giraffes were infected with RPV. Warthogs could also be infected.

In general, there are two different syndromes: the classic and the rapid variant.

Classic variant

The classic variant shows fever, poor absorption of food, inflamed mucous membranes resulting in excessive drooling and nasal discharge, gastrointestinal problems, watery diarrhoea and finally death after 8-10 days.

Rapid variant

The rapid form has a much shorter disease course. The animal develops high fever, dehydration and watery diarrhea and dies within one week of infection.

Spread of rinderpest

In the 18th century, Europe had to deal with very serious epidemics caused by rinderpest. In 1740 about 3 million cattle died in all of Europe. The last reports in Europe date from 1996 in the European part of Turkey.

Infection occurs through direct contact or intensive indirect contact between sick and susceptible animals. Rinderpest virus is excreted in all body fluids, mainly from the nose and eyes and in manure, but presumably also in semen and milk. Rinderpest virus is related to peste des petits ruminants virus (PPRV) and measles virus that infect humans. Like measles, rinderpest is a highly contagious disease.

Humans are not susceptible to rinderpest virus.

Diagnostics rinderpest

Rinderpest is a notifiable animal disease. Wageningen Bioveterinary Research (WBVR) is the national reference laboratory for rinderpest and, despite worldwide eradication, keeps ISO-certified tests operational to diagnose suspicions.

Serological test

Antibodies against rinderpest virus (RPV) after infection or vaccination can be detected with the ELISA for antibodies against the related and also notifiable PPRV. Positive test results are therefore alarming in any case, but no distinction can be made between the two animal diseases. The serum neutralization test (SNT) for PPRV can determine whether it concerns RPV antibodies. Clot blood (serum blood) is used in these serological tests.

PCR test

Infections can also be definitively determined with the PCR test for RPV. The test uses an alternative such as RPV-positive sample, since infectious RPV may not be used. Whole blood (EDTA blood), spleen, lymph nodes and nasal and eye discharges are suitable for detecting virus. Samples of blood or organs must be transported on ice (not frozen).

Vaccine rinderpest

Live attenuated (LAV; live-attenuated vaccine) rinderpest virus has been massively used to eradicate rinderpest worldwide after great efforts. This LAV was not a DIVA vaccine and long and intensive monitoring was therefore required to definitively determine the eradication rate of rinderpest virus.

Prevention and control of rinderpest

Based on serological data, rinderpest probably last occurred in Somalia in 2003. The World Health Organization (WHO) was able to grant the rinderpest-free status to the last eight countries on 25 May 2011. This has made rinderpest the first animal disease to be eradicated worldwide. In June 2011, this statement was adopted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The new objective is to reduce the chance of (unintentional) release from laboratories by reducing the number of institutes harbouring collections of rinderpest viruses and rinderpest-vaccine stocks. Many institutes, including WBVR, have agreed to this and shipped rinderpest virus strains to selected institutes for sequence purposes and destroyed all remains of RPV-related materials. The entire genome of many RPVs has been sequenced, so that the genetic data remains available for certain research purposes.