A British research institute has reported a 90% success rate in African field trials of a new vaccine to protect cattle and other cloven-hoofed animals from malignant catarrhal fever (MCF), a serious viral livestock disease.
In a statement, the Moredun Research Institute (MRI) said MCF, which is limited to wildebeest rangeland in South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya, also kills hundreds of cattle and deer in the United Kingdom annually. Its main characteristics include fever, loss of appetite, inflammation, and discharge from the eyes and nose.
Infected deer often die within a few days while cattle may survive for several weeks after the onset of clinical signs. The institute said the African strain that is caused by the alcelaphine herpes virus (AlHV-1) remains a “significant challenge” for livestock farmers living near game parks with large wildebeest populations.
The disease is more pronounced across northern Tanzania and Kenya, where large herds of wildebeest share grazing lands with cattle. MRI researchers said although pastoral herdsmen periodically move their cattle from the rich grass plains to poorer upland grazing to avoid contact with wildebeest, they risk contracting other livestock diseases while trying to avoid MCF.
“Despite this strategy, MCF is still considered one of the top 5 disease threats for cattle in this region (East Africa). In South Africa, cattle losses due to MCF are a source of conflict between game and cattle ranching businesses, with half a million cattle considered to be at risk. A new vaccine could change that. Field trials carried out by the MRI in sub-Saharan Africa have so far proved very successful,” the institute said.
MRI scientist George Russell said field trials of the experimental vaccine have been ongoing since 2010 in Kenya and Tanzania. He said the vaccine recorded a 90% success rate and there are indications that with further work, it can be optimised and used to protect livestock from MCH.
“The Moredun MCF vaccine appears to protect immunised cattle from wildebeest-associated MCF and further work is aimed at optimising the vaccine and preparing the information required for possible commercialisation.
“Although the current MCF vaccine is unlikely to protect UK animals from sheep-associated MCF, research done at Moredun has identified likely antigens required for an OvHV-2 specific vaccine. Current work is looking at how such antigens could be incorporated into the AlHV-1 vaccine,” Russell said.
The institute noted that the geographical seclusion of WA-MCH has contributed to the neglect of research efforts aimed at understanding the disease better.
Also read: It’s time to vaccinate animals, says RuVasa