The rinderpest virus (whose name is derived from the German for "cattle plague"), which for centuries caused devastating epidemics among domestic cattle, is a close relative of the measles virus that infects humans. The rinderpest and measles lineages are thought to have diverged less than a thousand years ago. Both the rinderpest and measles viruse are placed in the genus Morbillivirus, along with dolphin and porpoise morbillivirus, canine distemper virus, phocid distemper virus, and peste des petits ruminants virus. Genetically and antigenetically, however, the measles virus is most closely related to rinderpest virus. (Furuse et al. 2010)Rinderpest is highly infectious and has killed many millions of cattle, water buffalo and other animals, including large antelopes, deer, pigs, warthogs, and even giraffes and wildebeests. It has caused extensive hunger and economic hardship for humans dependent on vulnerable species, primarily in Africa, Asia and Europe.
In 2011, the elimination of rinderpest was formally declared after a global decades-long vaccination campaign, an accomplishment comparable to the eradication of human smallpox. The last known case of rinderpest was recorded in 2001. Mcneil (2011) provides a rich review of the history of rinderpest in his New York Times article on the occasion of the announcement of its eradication. As with smallpox (which was deemed eradicated in 1980), although the rinderpest virus no longer circulates amongst live animals, it is still maintained in a number of laboratories.
- Furuse, Y., A. Suzuki, and H. Oshitani. 2010. Origin of measles virus: divergence from rinderpest virus between the 11th and 12th centuries. Virology Journal 7: 52.
- McNeil, D.G., Jr. 27 June 2011. "Rinderpest, Scourge of Cattle, Is Vanquished". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 September 2012.