A NEW vaccine has been developed by the Moredun Research Institute to protect against malignant catarrhal fever (MCF) in cattle and other hoofed animals, which has a fatal impact on several hundred cattle each year in the UK.

Most cases of MCF in deer and cattle in the UK are caused by ovine herpesvirus-2 (OvHV-2) caught through contact with infected sheep or lambs. The disease is characterised by fever, loss of appetite, inflammation and discharge from the eyes and nose. In deer, death can occur within a few days, while cattle may survive for several weeks after the onset of clinical signs.

But despite its limited presence here in the UK, MCF is the most serious viral disease of farmed deer and bison worldwide. Wildebeest-associated malignant catarrhal fever is a significant challenge for livestock keepers in sub-Saharan Africa, where the disease is caused by alcelaphine herpesvirus 1 (AlHV-1), which is found in wildebeest.

Across the range of the wildebeest, livestock are at risk from this fatal disease wherever wildebeest and cattle mix. In Northern Tanzania, and Kenya, pastoralist herdsmen move their cattle from the rich short-grass plains to poorer upland grazing on the arrival of the wildebeest migration, risking other diseases to avoid MCF. Despite this strategy, MCF is still considered one of the top five disease threats for cattle in this region. In South Africa, cattle losses due to MCF are a source of conflict between game and cattle ranching businesses, with half a million cattle considered to be at risk.

The new vaccine could change that – field trials carried out by the Moredun Research Institute in sub-Saharan Africa have so far proved very successful. Moredun scientist Dr George Russell has been at the forefront of field trials for the vaccine in Kenya and Tanzania:

“Since 2010 there have been field trials in Kenya and Tanzania with an experimental vaccine which so far has proved to be 90% effective. The last trial which took place saw 900 cattle in a 2000 herd vaccinated and only a handful died," reported Dr Russell.

“We have found the Moredun MCF vaccine appears to protect immunised cattle from wildebeest-associated MCF and further work is aimed at optimising the vaccine and preparing the information required for possible commercialisation.

“Although the current MCF vaccine is unlikely to protect UK animals from sheep-associated MCF, research done at Moredun has identified likely antigens required for an OvHV-2 specific vaccine. Current work is looking how such antigens could be incorporated into the AlHV-1 vaccine.”