Smallpox not the only infectious disease eradicated by humans

20 May 2022
What was claimed

Smallpox is the only disease eradicated by humans.

Our verdict

This claim is false. At least one other infectious disease, rinderpest, has been eradicated by humans.

A story published in The Times about the rising number of monkeypox cases claims that smallpox is “the only disease eradicated by humans”. This is not the case, despite similar statements being made elsewhere.

Rinderpest—also known as cattle plague, steppe murrain or contagious bovine typhus—was a highly contagious disease that infected ruminant animals, primarily cattle and buffalo. It has also been eradicated by humans with an animal vaccination campaign

Although the disease could not be passed on to humans, outbreaks proved devastating in areas where farmers relied on cattle for their meat, field ploughing and fertiliser, directly contributing to famines

The last outbreak of rinderpest in Great Britain was in 1877, according to the website for the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. 

Global eradication efforts began in 1994. The last rinderpest virus isolation from a susceptible animal in the field was recorded in Kenya in 2001, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations’ report into the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme. Other reports say the last reported occurrences were in Kenya and Mauritania in 2003

The World Organisation for Animal Health declared the disease eradicated on May 25 2011. It says rinderpest was the first animal disease to be eliminated in the history of humankind.

Image courtesy of Bernd Dittrich.

We took a stand for good information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted the Times to request a correction regarding this claim.

The Times amended the article.

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