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Discoverer of Rinderpest vaccine dies

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  • Steve Hayes
    Anyone whose ancestors were living in Africa in the 1890s will probably have heard of the Rinderpest. In those days railways were still in their infancy, and
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 23, 2010
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      Anyone whose ancestors were living in Africa in the 1890s will probably have
      heard of the Rinderpest. In those days railways were still in their infancy,
      and only connected major towns. The death of draft animals had a devastating
      effect on transport and trade, as well as for people whose primary source of
      food was cattle, like the Maasai of East Africa.



      Walter Plowright, 86, dies; his cattle vaccine saved lives

      By Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times

      March 23, 2010

      Walter Plowright, 86, the British veterinarian who discovered a vaccine that
      has almost totally eliminated the cattle disease rinderpest, died Feb. 19 in
      London. No cause of death was reported.

      Most Americans probably have never heard of rinderpest, a virus in the same
      family as measles that causes one of the most lethal diseases in cattle. It
      never established a foothold in the Americas and was eliminated from Europe
      early in the 20th century, but its introduction to Africa in 1889 in cattle
      shipped from India caused what some consider the most catastrophic natural
      disaster ever to affect that continent.

      The virus, which strikes primarily cloven-footed animals, killed nearly 90
      percent of cattle in sub-Saharan Africa, along with sheep, goats, buffaloes,
      giraffes and wildebeests. The loss of plow animals, herds and hunting
      resulted in mass starvation that killed one-third of Ethiopia's population
      and two-thirds of the Masai people in Tanzania. Subsequent outbreaks further
      contributed to poverty and starvation in the region.

      Dr. Plowright was a young veterinary pathologist assigned to the United
      Kingdom's East African Veterinary Research Organization laboratory at
      Muguga, Kenya, when he and colleague R.D. Ferris began studying the
      rinderpest virus in 1956. Several groups had tried without success to
      develop a weakened version of the virus that could serve as a vaccine in the
      way that Edward Jenner had used a weak cowpox virus to produce a smallpox

      Dr. Plowright decided to use the relatively new technique of growing the
      virus in cells in glass tubes. After passaging the virus through nearly 100
      generations of cell cultures over eight years, he and Ferris obtained a
      weakened version that could provoke immunity to rinderpest but did not
      produce disease. The weakened virus was inexpensive to produce and could be
      grown in large quantities.

      The vaccine, called tissue culture rinderpest vaccine, was quickly adopted,
      but cattle growers did not initially use it for long enough and outbreaks
      occurred again. One such outbreak in Nigeria resulted in more than $2
      billion in losses.

      In 1994, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization led a global
      eradication program that trained veterinarians and farmers to recognize and
      control rinderpest and promoted widespread vaccinations. The last major
      outbreak of the disease occurred in Kenya in 2001, and the U.N. agency is
      expected to declare the virus eradicated in the wild this year. Rinderpest
      and smallpox will then be the only disease viruses that have been eradicated

      The FAO has said that the cost of the rinderpest eradication campaign was
      about $3 million. That investment, the agency says, has led to an increase
      of $47 billion in food production in Africa and a $289 billion increase in

      Dr. Plowright's technique has been adopted for other viral diseases,
      including African swine fever, malignant catarrhal fever and poxviruses. In
      1999, he was awarded the prestigious World Food Prize.

      Walter Plowright was born July 20, 1923, in Holbeach, Lincolnshire, England.
      He graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in London in 1944, served in
      the Royal Army Veterinary Corps and in 1950 joined the Colonial Veterinary

      Dr. Plowright is survived by his wife of 50 years, Dorothy.

      Keep well,
      Steve Hayes
      Web: http://hayesfam.bravehost.com/famhist1.htm
      E-mail: shayes@...
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