ROME and PARIS – Global health and agriculture agencies are working together to destroy dangerous rinderpest virus samples stored in laboratories and calling on countries to comply with a global moratorium on research that involves using live rinderpest virus in labs.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the Organization for World Animal Health (OIE) said potentially dangerous virus samples and biological materials are currently stored in more than 40 laboratories across the world, some of them under insufficient levels of biosecurity.

"The moratorium is pivotal to managing biological risks until an oversight mechanism is established, which would only approve research essential for continued vigilance and preparedness for a reoccurrence of the disease," said Kazuaki Miyagishima, head of the OIE Scientific and Technical Department.

"While rinderpest virus remains present in a large number of laboratories across the world, we cannot say that there is zero risk of a reoccurrence. Priority must be given to destroying remaining non-secured stocks of the virus and maintaining vigilance until this is accomplished," Miyagishima added.

Reserves of the rinderpest virus should be kept to produce vaccines and for research in case the disease re-emerges or is released as a result of an accidental act or bioterrorism. However, the agencies said the moratorium will remain in place and all future research proposals should be submitted to OIE and FAO for approval, in keeping with previous resolutions. FAO and OIE are working to establish a standard protocol for making research requests, in addition to detailing the conditions under which such requests would be approved.