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* First animal disease ever to be eradicated by humankind
* All 198 countries with susceptible animals declared free
* Cattle plague caused major famines
PARIS, May 25 (Reuters) - The cattle disease rinderpest that has devastated animal herds for centuries no longer exists, making it the first ever animal illness to be eradicated by humankind, world animal health body OIE said on Wednesday.
The Paris-based organisation said the 198 countries with rinderpest-susceptible animals had been declared free of the disease following measures implemented with the support of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
"Today we witness a historical event as rinderpest is the first animal disease ever to be eradicated by humankind," OIE Director General Bernard Vallat said in a statement during the organisation's annual gathering.
Rinderpest, also known as cattle plague, did not affect humans directly but caused major outbreaks of famine by killing hundreds of millions of cattle in Europe, Africa and Asia.
After entering Africa in the 19th century, one rinderpest pandemic was responsible for the starvation of an estimated one-third of the human population of Ethiopia.
It is the second disease to be fully eliminated due to human efforts, following smallpox in humans in 1980.
The FAO had said in October that only a small number of countries were missing from the list before rinderpest could be declared wiped out globally. [ID:nLDE69D2CW] (Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, editing by Anthony Barker)