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Food and Agriculture Organization 
of the United Nations

Rinderpest -- the toll and treatment of a plague

Cattle in Africa

Rinderpest can spread rapidly, devastating livestock herds and causing widespread famine and economic hardship

Archive of News and Highlights

Rinderpest is the most dreaded bovine plague -- a highly infectious viral disease that can destroy entire populations of cattle and buffalo.

In regions that depend on cattle for meat, milk products and draft power, rinderpest has caused widespread famine and has inflicted serious economic and political damage. An epidemic in the 1890s wiped out 80-90 percent of all cattle in sub-Saharan Africa. More recently, another rinderpest outbreak that raged across much of Africa in 1982-84 is estimated to have cost at least $500 million.

Rinderpest is mainly spread by direct contact and by drinking water that has been infected by the dung of sick animals. It can also be transmitted in the breath and can infect wild animals and pigs as well as cattle.

Clinical signs include: a high fever; red patches with discharge from around the eyes, nose and mouth; frothy saliva from the mouth; constipation followed by diarrhoea. After a few days, the infected animal dies.

Rinderpest can be prevented with vaccination but spreads easily among non-vaccinated herds through livestock trade and pastoral migrations.

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