Virologists at the University of California at Davis and the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York have developed a new vaccine for rinderpest, a disease that has decimated the populations of cattle and buffalo in Africa and Asia for centuries. Rinderpest--which means "cattle plague" in German--attacks the gut, and causes bloody diarrhoea and pneumonia. Infected animals rarely recover.

Before this research, the only vaccine was the Plowright vaccine, which must be kept cold to retain its potency. In developing countries refrigeration is not always available. After one animal is vaccinated with the rinderpest vaccine, farmers can obtain more vaccine by shaving hair from its abdonmen and scraping it with a needle. They then scrape off the scab and place it in a salt water solution. To vaccinate another animal, a farmer need only break its skin and apply the virus suspension to the cut. One scab contains enough material to produce between 200,000 and 300,000 doses of the vaccine. The vaccine will be tested in Africa for one year. If successful it will be made available, free of charge, to any country that wants it.

Scientists have already tested the vaccine in the U.S. at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York. Fifteen vaccinated animals survived doses of rinderpest 1000 times as strong as levels which are normally fatal. Four unvaccinated animals died within seven days of exposure. Tilahun Yilma from the University of California at Davis says that the new vaccine may have other uses. It will be tested on a disease related to rinderpest called peste des ruminants that kills goats and sheep, especially in west Africa. The vaccine may also offer protection against human measles and canine distemper.

For more information contact:

Tilahun Yilma
Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Immunology
University of California
Davis, CA 95616.