The UN's food agency FAO and the OIE (Animal health organization) called on countries on to comply with a 2011 global moratorium and destroy potentially dangerous “rinderpest” virus samples or put them into safe storage.
The deadly animal virus, which caused cattle plague, was the second viral disease in history to be wiped out after smallpox more than 30 years ago. It was officially declared eradicated in 2011, but some of the samples still stored worldwide are being kept in unsafe conditions, the organizations said.
The process of cataloguing the still existing virus-containing materials worldwide found that some were being kept under insufficient levels of bio-security, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome and Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) said.
In two international resolutions passed in last year, OIE and FAO member countries agreed either to destroy remaining stocks of “rinderpest” virus or store them in a limited number of safe, high containment laboratories.
The moratorium is pivotal to managing biological risks until an oversight mechanism is established, Kazuaki Miyagishima, head of the OIE Scientific and Technical Department, said in a joint statement released by the organizations.
While “rinderpest” virus remains present in a large number of laboratories across the world, we cannot say that there is zero risk of a reoccurrence.
Priority must be given to destroying remaining non-secured stocks of the virus and maintaining vigilance until this is accomplished, he said.
The OIE and FAO said some reserves of the virus should be kept to produce vaccines and for research in case the disease emerges again or is released as a result of an accidental or deliberate act.
The virus, which caused respiratory disease, diarrhea and death in the majority of cattle infected, devastated livestock and led to widespread hunger.
While “rinderpest” has been successfully eradicated, there may be some virus material that would be useful for research or vaccine development, said Juan Lubroth, the food agency's chief veterinary officer.
We must remain vigilant so that “rinderpest” remains a disease of the past, consigned to history and the textbooks of veterinarians to benefit from the lessons we've learned,” he said.