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Nature of the disease
Rinderpest is an acute, highly contagious disease of cattle caused by a Morbillivirus. In its acute form it is characterised by inflammation and necrosis of mucous membranes and a very high mortality rate.
OIE List A disease
Susceptible species
Cattle and buffaloes are highly susceptible.

There are some reports of sheep and goats in close contact with infected cattle becoming infected. However, clinical rinderpest in sheep and goats is considered rare.

Many cloven-hoofed wild animals in Africa are susceptible. European pigs can become infected but rarely develop serious disease. Asian pigs are more susceptible and can transmit disease back to cattle.

Until recently Rinderpest occured in most Africa, since a few years international campaign were successful and the disease has been virtually eradicated from most countries, it 2002 was only reported in Kenya. However the disease may be still present in wildlife and resurgence could occur.

It still occurs sporadically in the Middle East and in southwestern and central Asia

Clinical signs 

The disease can occur with different level of virulence, the subclinical infection is only characterised by an onset of fever and is difficult to detect, specially among wildlife.

In cattle, the acute form of the disease is characterised by:

  • Sudden onset of fever (41.5 °C)
  • Depression and loss of appetite
  • Congestion of the visible mucosal surfaces
  • Watery discharges from the eyes and nose
  • Loss of milk production in dairy animals
  • Necrotic lesions on mucous membranes of the mouth nostrils and urogenital tract
  • Respiratory difficulties
  • Diarrhoea starts about two days after appearance of mucosal lesions - faeces are profuse, dark, fetid and may contain mucus, blood and necrotic mucosa
  • Dehydration, collapse and death
  • Mortality rate 30-100%




Post-mortem findings 
  • Dehydrated carcase with faecal staining of the legs
  • Erosions of the mucosa in the mouth, pharynx and oesophagus
  • Muco-purulent nasal exudate
  • Congestion, oedema and erosion of the abomasal mucosa
  • Prominent, necrotic Peyer’s patches· severe congestion, ulceration and haemorrhages in the large intestine (‘tiger striping’ - haemorrhages of the longitudinal folds of the large intestine
Differential diagnosis
  • Mucosal disease
  • Malignant catarrhal fever
  • Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis
  • Foot-and-mouth disease
  • Vesicular stomatitis
  • Paratuberculosis
  • Arsenic poisoning

Sheep and goats

  • Bluetongue
  • Peste des petits ruminants
  • Nairobi sheep disease
Specimens required for diagnosis
Sterile whole blood preserved in heparin (10 IU/ml) or EDTA (0.5 mg/ml) and transferred to laboratory on ice (but not frozen) is required for serological diagnosis. It uses ELISA and virus neutralisation tests.

Spleen, prescapular or mesenteric lymph nodes of dead animals chilled to sub-zero temperatures or o ocular and nasal secretions of infected animals during either the prodromal or the erosive phase can be used for isolation of the virus. Many isolation techniques have been described.

The method recognised by OIE is the serological diagnosis.

Virus is rapidly inactivated at environmental temperatures, by ultraviolet light and by desiccation.

Infection is transmitted through secretions and excretions of infected animals, indirect transmission is also possible.

Infection spreads to new areas by the movement of infected animals. Pigs can be infected through ingestion infected material including meat and could act as a source of infection back to cattle.

Risk of introduction
As the virus survives poorly outside the host, contaminated clothing or equipment and smuggled meat products are unlikely to introduce rinderpest.

Restriction of imports of live animals from endemically infected countries, would keep the risk of introduction low.

Control / vaccines
There is no treatment but several vaccines are effective. Currently used vaccines are attenuated, but genetically engineered thermostable recombinant vaccines are currently undergoing limited field trials vaccines are used to control rinderpest.

Immunity lasts at least 5 years and is probably life-long. Annual revaccination is recommended in order to obtain a high percentage of immunised animals in an area.

Rinderpest can be eradicated by applying a stamping out policy, systematic vaccination program or a combination of both. In previously free areas the preferred approach is to slaughter all infected and potentially infected cattle with destruction of the carcases, supplemented by quarantine, movement control and surveillance.

  • GEERING WA, FORMAN AJ, NUNN MJ, Exotic Diseases of Animals, Aust Gov Publishing Service, Canberra, 1995, p225-235
  • FAO Empres Contingency planning - Rinderpest
  • Office International des Epizooties, 2002
  • Rinderpest, In Merck Veterinary Manual, National Publishing Inc. Eight ed, 1998, Philadelphia, p 542-544