Kenyan and American scientists have opened renewed research to find an anti-tick vaccine to control East Coast Fever, which still kills thousands of the country’s cattle, by stopping cattle from becoming carriers that pass the disease to uninfected ticks.
The research at the International Livestock Research Institute in Kenya (ILRI) is taking a two-pronged approach to eliminating the disease, which is not a contagious disease, but spread through a parasite that ticks pick up when they bite infected animals.
Farmers in many parts of Africa use a vaccination method against East Coast fever known as infect and treat, where they infect animals with live parasites and then treat them with drugs to help them recover.
This immunizes cattle against a full case of the deadly fever, but means that uninfected ticks that bite the vaccinated animal can still get infected, and spread the parasite on to other animals. The new research is now targeting better ways of killing the parasite itself, through vaccination.
“The development of combined vaccines conferring protection against pathogens transmitted and the respective vector may be a prerequisite for the success of vaccine development against protozoan pathogens, including Theileria parva, the causative agent of East Coast fever (ECF), an acute tick-borne disease causing high rates of morbidity and mortality in cattle in 12 countries in sub Saharan Africa,” said ILRI, unveiling the new research.
“As the livelihood of small-holder farms, often managed by women, is dependent on one or two cattle, the financial burden due to loss of income and livestock products impacts on the quality of all aspects of family life,” it added.
For these reasons, “ILRI is undertaking a research to analyse the transmission of piroplasms from T. parva infected cattle to uninfected nymphal ticks. T. parva is mainly transmitted by the brown-ear tick Rhipicephalus appendiculatus.”
“Additionally, we will attempt to isolate and characterise novel tick gut antigens of R. appendiculatus with the final goals of enhancing the performance of existing tick vaccines that are based on the BM86 antigen.”
According to scientists, current vaccines also require cold storage, adding to their cost and making it difficult to use them in many areas of Africa.
For more than four years, American and Kenyan scientists have studied diseases carried by ticks. The work in the US centered on the parasite that causes Texas cattle fever, which is common to the Americas. But this year, the scientists began a new study in Africa aimed at developing a new vaccine for the East Coast fever parasite that does not require infecting and treating animals or the need for cold storage.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
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