INFESTATION OF hen houses with the poultry red mite is a major health concern of the European poultry industry, causing significant economic losses.

Now, the BBSRC has awarded a £0.55 million research grant to Moredun scientists, in collaboration with Pfizer Animal Health, to develop a vaccine to help protect hens against these blood sucking mites.

Off their hosts, the mites live in inaccessible areas of the cages during daylight and emerge during darkness to feed on the hens, biting through the skin to feed on blood.

Infestation with these mites has important animal welfare implications including anaemia, feather-pecking and an increased incidence of cannibalism, thus having a significant impact on productivity.

Dr Alasdair Nisbet who is heading the project at Moredun said: "Controlling mite populations is now a major problem, with most pesticides affording only limited or short-lived reduction in the population of mites."

The team's approach is to determine whether it might be possible to vaccinate laying hens using extracts of the mites thus inducing an immune response in the hens that will attack and kill the mites when they take a blood meal."