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General information

Rinderpest is an acute, usually fatal, viral disease principally of cattle. The disease affects the gastrointestinal and respiratory systems. It is a devastating disease of cattle and some wild artiodactyls (African buffalo, giraffe, eland and kudu) with death rates during outbreaks approaching 100 per cent. Rinderpest is caused by a virus belonging to the family Paramyxoviridae. Eradication programs were commenced in 1920 and the world was declared free of rinderpest in 2011. The virus no longer circulates among animals.


Species affected

Before the disease was eradicated, cattle and buffalo were highly susceptible, and rinderpest was most frequently seen in these species. Sheep and goats did develop clinical signs but serious disease was uncommon. Disease did occur in camels, deer and pigs, sometimes without clinical signs. Humans were never affected.


The disease occurred in parts of Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, India and Nepal. There was an occurrence of rinderpest in Western Australia in 1923, which was quickly eradicated. The disease has never reoccurred in Australia. All countries in the world are now declared free of the disease.


There is sudden onset of fever, followed by depression, loss of appetite, reduced milk production, nasal and eye discharges, and laboured, rapid breathing. Irregular erosions appear in the mouth, lining of the nose and genital tract. Acute diarrhoea is common. Most animals die 6-12 days after the onset of clinical signs.


The virus is excreted 1-2 days before clinical signs are observed. The virus is found in expired air, eye and nasal discharges, saliva, faeces, urine and milk. Transmission occurs mainly through aerosols. Infection spreads to new areas by movement of infected animals. Recovered animals have a solid immunity and there is no known chronic carrier state. Indirect transmission, such as by clothing and equipment, is unlikely as the virus does not persist for long in the environment.

Persistence of the virus

The virus is relatively heat sensitive, being rapidly inactivated at 56°C, and does not persist for long in the environment. The virus can be detected in the milk of recovered animals up to 45 days after recovery and occurs in milk 1-2 days before clinical signs develop. The virus is sensitive to a wide range of disinfectants.

Control strategy

Before eradication, the strategy for an outbreak in Australia was to eradicate by:

  • humanely destroying infected and in-contact, at-risk animals to remove the source of infection
  • implementing strict quarantine and movement controls to prevent spread
  • decontaminating to eliminate the virus
  • conducting tracing and surveillance to detect the extent of infection
  • zoning to define infected and disease-free areas.