Scientists step up war on East Coast Fever with superior vaccine

ecf vaccineA team of scientists from The International Livestock Research Institute has launched a project of developing a superior vaccine against the East Coast Fever known to kill one animal after every 30 seconds and currently threatening some 28 million cattle in East and Central Africa.

The new vaccine could also assist scientists in understanding Malaria and cancer transmission in humans since both diseases, malaria and ECF are caused by the same parasite and the parasites prompt the animal’s white blood cells to multiply rapidly just as cancerous cells do in the human body.

The third generation vaccine set to replace the existing first generation strain is poised to remove the shortcomings that have emerged with the first set of vaccine. Although it has been instrumental in assisting farmers protect some 620,000 cows, the cost which ranges between Sh680 and Sh1,020 has been beyond the reach of smallholder farmers and pastoralists who are the most affected by the disease.

The current vaccine requires refrigeration to remain potent and takes a lot of time, usually 18 months to produce a single batch. Scientists also say that and the vaccinated animals still carry and transmit the East Cost fever parasite. "We need to get better control of East Coast fever because there are millions of people in East and Central Africa whose existence depends on healthy cattle, and right now they are losing about one animal every 30 seconds to this disease’, said Vish Nene, who leads ILRI’s Vaccine Biosciences Program and is the head researcher in the new vaccine initiative.

According to ILRI, ILRI the researchers while developing the new vaccine will focus on recent breakthroughs that have isolated proteins in the parasite, called antigens, likely to be crucial in protecting cattle from East Coast fever to develop the vaccine. Some of the antigens appear capable of stimulating production of protective antibodies.

East Coast fever is a devastating cancer-like disease of cattle that often kills the animals within three weeks of infection. It is caused by the single-celled parasite Theileria parva, which is transmitted by the brown ear tick (Rhipicephalus appendiculatus) as it feeds on cattle.

The disease was first recognized in southern Africa when it was introduced at the beginning of the twentieth century with cattle imported from eastern Africa, where the disease had been endemic for centuries. Last year more than one million cattle in 11 countries died and caused a loss of about Sh26 billion. Many of the animals threatened by the disease belong to poor pastoralist herders and smallholder farmers for whom the loss of even one cow can be disastrous.

The new East Coast fever vaccine project is supported by a USD11 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (USA), with additional support coming from consortium partners who include the Centre for Ticks and Tick-Borne Diseases (Malawi) and GALVmed, a livestock-oriented non-profit product development partnership in UK among others.