Newsworthy: Ruminant Epidemics, Rinderpest and Goat Plague

I enjoy looking at animal science from a public health perspective, but I usually just think about it in terms of zoonoses and food safety, I hadn’t dwelled too much about animal health being directly related to whether or not someone eats tonight.

It was apparently a big deal when the United Nations announced that Rinderpest was eradicated just a few months ago. Rinderpest is credited with speeding the fall of the Roman Empire, and for the bankruptcy and starvation of many farmers/communities in 3rd world or war-torn regions. Now that the attempted eradication of Rinderpest was successful, veterinary experts are recommending that the next target be “goat plague.”

Pest de Petits Ruminants or “goat plague” is a viral infection related to rinderpest that affects sheep, goats, and deer (important as vectors for the virus). It’s pretty nasty and comes with a host of upper respiratory symptoms, gastrointestinal upset, and causes characteristic lesions on the mouth, lips, and gums. Mortality and rates of transmission are high, so I understand why it would be such an issue in prevalent countries. Additionally, goats are the “poor mans cow”, meaning that disease afflicting goat stock generally will affect people who can’t afford to lose a portion of their herd to an outbreak of disease.

Some of the economic returns associated with the eradication of Rinderpest are pretty amazing, so it seems like PPR would be a reasonable next step. No one can argue that helping impoverished parts of the world feed themselves is a bad cause, and the economic benefits of helping other countries be more successful are far reaching. Many times I have to explain to friends and acquaintances of the roles that animal scientists and veterinarians play in public health through the USDA, and that’s just a product of how little people stop to think how their food gets to Safeway. I found that I also don’t stop to think that while I look at disease prevention from a profits and and animal welfare standpoint, in other areas of the world it can be a matter of life or death for the farmers themselves.

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