Scientists are poised to eliminate rinderpest, a deadly viral disease that has devastated cattle herds for centuries, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said Thursday.
"It would be the first time in history that humankind has succeeded in wiping out an animal disease in the wild, and only the second time, after smallpox in 1980, that a disease has been eliminated thanks to human efforts," the FAO said in a statement.
The organization said it expected to confirm the eradication of the disease in mid-2011 after final reports are sent from a small number of countries to the World Organization for Animal Health.
Bernard Vallat, director general of the animal-health organization, said he was confident that the group's World Assembly of Delegates "will officially recognize all remaining countries as free from the disease in May 2011."
Rinderpest does not affect humans directly but has caused huge outbreaks of famine by killing millions of cattle. After entering Africa in the 19th century, one rinderpest pandemic was responsible for the death of up to a third of the human population of Ethiopia, the FAO said.