UAE-de­vel­oped vac­cine could erad­i­cate killer horse dis­ease

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - DANIEL BARDSLEY

Ef­forts to com­bat a deadly horse dis­ease that has killed hun­dreds of thou­sands of an­i­mals are mov­ing for­ward thanks to re­searchers in Dubai.

Sci­en­tists at the Cen­tral Vet­eri­nary Re­search Lab­o­ra­tory have de­vel­oped what is thought to be the most ef­fec­tive vac­cine yet against African horse sick­ness, a vi­ral dis­ease that can prove fa­tal to up to 85 per cent of in­fected an­i­mals.

The dis­ease has been known for nearly 800 years, but there is no ef­fec­tive treat­ment, mak­ing the cre­ation of a re­li­able and safe vac­cine vi­tal.

Dr Ul­rich Wern­ery, the CVRL’s sci­en­tific di­rec­tor, has seen an­i­mals in­fected with the con­di­tion and de­scribed it as “one of the worst equine dis­eases you can think of”.

“I had a dream where I saw these poor an­i­mals dy­ing and knew that I must do some­thing,” he said.

Al­though vac­cines against the dis­ease have been used since the early 1900s, the vac­cine most widely ap­plied cur­rently con­tains a weak­ened virus that, on oc­ca­sion, has mu­tated and turned vir­u­lent, killing vac­ci­nated an­i­mals. “It’s a good vac­cine but in spe­cific cir­cum­stances it can pro­duce the dis­ease,” Dr Wern­ery said.

The CVRL vac­cine, how­ever, uses in­ac­ti­vated viruses that are un­able to be­come vir­u­lent again. Clin­i­cal signs of AHS vary be­cause there are sev­eral forms of the dis­ease, but in­fected an­i­mals of­ten de­velop a fever and breath­ing prob­lems, with lung conges­tion even­tu­ally caus­ing death.

Be­tween 60 per cent and 85 per cent of horses that be­come

in­fected will die from AHS, which was first iden­ti­fied in the year 1237.

The dis­ease has not yet been found in the UAE, but the midges that transmit it are present in the Emirates. In decades past there have been out­breaks in Saudi Ara­bia and Ye­men.

Be­tween 1959 and 1961, AHS caused an es­ti­mated 300,000 horse deaths in In­dia and Pak­istan, and it is en­demic in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa. The vac­cine CVRL de­vel­oped is now be­ing used in Kenya and Su­dan, and ap­pears to be ef­fec­tive.

“We have very good news just re­cently that Kenya has had not one case of African horse sick­ness this year, most prob­a­bly be­cause of our vac­cine,” Dr Wern­ery said. “This is the first year that they didn’t have an out­break, but they have pre­vi­ously re­duced out­breaks be­cause now ev­ery­body uses our vac­cine. I be­lieve we can erad­i­cate the dis­ease from parts of Kenya. It’s re­ally a fan­tas­tic project and a great break­through in fight­ing this dis­ease.”

CVRL’s vac­cine is pro­duced only at the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s lab­o­ra­to­ries in Dubai, but it is keen to find a part­ner in Africa that can take on pro­duc­tion there.

If the vac­cine does be­come more widely used in Africa, it would ben­e­fit not just horses, but horse own­ers too.

“They are [of­ten] small farm­ers; they are very poor,” Dr Wern­ery said. “When one of the horses dies it’s a big, big loss for the fam­ily.”

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