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Texas A&M researchers developing first oral anthrax vaccine for livestock, wildlife

Posted at 4:50 PM, Sep 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-24 21:09:38-04

COLLEGE STATION, TX — Researchers from Texas A&M's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) are working to develop the first oral anthrax vaccine for livestock and wildlife.

An anthrax vaccine is crucial in ensuring cattle and wildlife do not die from the disease.

Data from the Texas Animal Health Commission indicates last year, Texas made headlines due to a spike in anthrax cases in cattle.

"Anthrax is something a lot of people might know about. It can affect humans, but it's also more naturally occurring in wildlife," said Dr. Jamie Benn Felix.

Dr. Felix is a post-doctoral research associate in the Cook Wildlife Lab and the woman working to develop the first oral anthrax vaccine for wildlife and livestock.

"It forms these very resilient dormant spores that live in the soil for years. When animals are out in whatever area they are ranging in or grazing in, they can ingest or inhale the spores and they can become infected with anthrax," she explained.

Dr. Benn Felix says the inhalation can kill the animals within one to three days. She says the effects of anthrax is also a huge economic issue, particularly across the state of Texas.

"Every year there are anthrax outbreaks and sometimes they are worse than other years. Last summer was particularly bad. We estimate there were 10,000 animals that were killed by it," Dr. Benn Felix added.

Dr. Been Felix says that if you estimate that each one of those animals were worth $1,000, that can quickly add up to $10 million in losses over a few months. These staggering numbers are from Texas alone in the Hill Country area.

There is already a vaccine for cattle, but it requires a hand-injection every year.

"If you are trying to vaccinate livestock or wildlife with a hand injected vaccine every single year, that's really time consuming and costly for livestock, but then when it comes to wildlife it's logistically impossible," Dr. Benn Felix said.

So with Dr. Benn Felix's work and her research, she is coming up with an oral vaccine without any human contact or hand injections needed.

"What we can do with an oral vaccine is we can put it in some bait and just lay it out have wildlife come up and eat it to get that immune and antibody response going, so that they are protected from it," Dr. Benn Felix said.

Wildlife Biologist Macy Ledbetter says an oral vaccine is a game-changer.

"This oral vaccine and this anthrax remedy excites me because now we can possibly do something about it," Ledbetter said.

Ledbetter says for someone managing a wildlife herd every year, numbers are key and as long as the adult deer populations stay safe, you can manage them better.

"But when we these boom and bust, these anthrax outbreaks or disease outbreaks that decimate a deer herd, we are constantly rebuilding the herd which is entirely different from managing the herd," Ledbetter added.

Dr. Benn Felix says their efforts right now are focused on white tail deer, but down the road they could potentially move toward other wildlife, like Koodo or Zebras and eventually livestock, like cows horses, goats and sheep.

"We have heard a lot of positive feedback. There is definitely a need. We want to help and we want to do everything we can," Dr. Benn Felix said.

Dr. Benn Felix says it is extremely important that if you have an anthrax outbreak on your property that you report it and find a way to get them information about the number of potential animals killed, so they can help solve the anthrax problem.

She says it could take a few years before the vaccine could potentially hit the market. She also says if anyone across Texas wants to get involved and help, you can contact the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and help keep the research going.