UAE-developed vaccine could eradicate killer horse disease
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.”