A severe epidemic of rinderpest, affecting mainly wild ruminants, occurred between 1993 and 1997 in East Africa. Buffalo (Syncerus coffer), eland (Taurotagus oryx) and lesser kudu (Tragelaphus imberbis) were highly susceptible. The histopathological changes, notably individual epithelial cell necrosis with syncytia formation, were consistent with an infection with an epitheliotrophic virus. Serology, the polymerase chain reaction, and virus isolation confirmed the diagnosis and provided epidemiological information. The virus was related to a strain which was prevalent in Kenya in the 1960s, of a second lineage (II), and distinct from isolations of rinderpest virus in the region since 1986. The source of the virus was presumed to be infected cattle from the Eastem region of Kenya and Somalia. The pathogenicity of the virus varied during the epidemic. The mortality in buffalo populations was estimated to be up to 80 per cent, and population data suggested that the virus had an adverse effect on a wide range of species. The virus caused only a mild disease in cattle, with minimal mortality. The results confirmed the importance of wildlife as sentinels of the disease, but although wildlife were important in the spread of the virus, they did not appear to act as reservoirs of infection.
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