Researchers at Washington State University have begun work on a vaccine that could save the lives of millions of cattle around the world.
The disease, known as East Coast fever, killed more than 1 million cattle in 11 countries and cost ranchers more than $300 million last year, according to an international research group that includes Washington State University.
“It can be up to a 50 percent mortality rate in the animals,” said Dr. Wendy Brown, a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Pathology at WSU.
The Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute has organized a research group that includes members in Scotland, England, Belgium, the University of Maryland and WSU.
The project received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for $11 million over the next four years, with $1.5 million going to the WSU and U.S. Department of Agriculture team in Pullman, Brown said.
East Coast fever is a deadly disease commonly found in sub-Saharan Africa that is spread through ticks, she said. When the tick infects the cattle, it causes lymphocytes to divide and spread, resulting in disease in the cattle, Brown said.
The project’s goal is to create an easier and cheaper vaccine that could be used worldwide.
For the first time in the United States, WSU researchers have received lab samples of infected ticks, flown in from a researcher in England, Brown said.
Lindsay Fry, graduate research assistant in veterinary microbiology and pathology, began injecting the cattle in February.
The team received two calves from a University of Idaho dairy farm. The calves are kept under biohazard separation from other animals on campus with a moat-surrounded pen, Fry said.
The calves are injected with the infected ground-up parasite, and then given an antibiotic in hope of generating a healthy response, she said.
Within the first week of testing, one calf showed an inflamed lymph node where the parasite was injected, Fry said.
More than a month later, the team now has three calves in recovery from the infection. The team is studying how the immune system responds to the parasite.
There is no cure for the infection; all that can be done is to use antibiotics to treat it, Brown said.