AN international team of researchers has developed the first horse vaccine for the deadly Hendra virus, using the ovary cells of a Chinese hamster.
Being launched on Thursday in Brisbane, the vaccine’s arrival follows years of testing and means the cycle of transmission between horses and humans will be broken.
Seven people have contracted Hendra and four have died from the virus that has killed 81 horses, including nine this year. There is no known cure for Hendra, which was first identified in the Brisbane suburb of Hendra in 1994.
While flying foxes transmit the virus through bodily fluids, humans have only ever contracted the virus from horses.
A specialist in veterinary pathology at the CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, Deborah Middleton, said that, by stopping the virus in horses, science had effectively stopped it making the leap to humans.
”This is significant, as to get a vaccine to market for people would have taken another 10 or 20 years because of all the guidelines and ethical approval needed,” she said.
Work on developing a vaccine didn’t start until 2005, as scientists first had to understand the virus’ structure, parts and how it generated an immune response from the animals it infected.
That research led scientists to focus on the many proteins found on the outside of the virus that act as an alert for the immune system. One protein in particular caught their attention – the G-protein.
”We realised it was protection against the G-protein that was really critical in clearing the virus from the system,” Dr Middleton said.
This protein is the active ingredient in the vaccine. Once injected, animals generate antibodies to the G-protein and can eliminate infection much faster when it happens.
”It gives the animal a head start,” Dr Middleton said. ”If you have an animal vaccinated with the G-protein, its immune system is tricked into thinking it has seen the virus before, so it already has antibodies and it can react quickly.”
The G-protein can be man-made in commercial quantities, intriguingly using a cell line derived from the ovary cells of a Chinese hamster.
”It’s amazing, really,” Dr Middleton said. ”This cell line has been going for about 60 years.”
The cells keep regenerating and the gene for the Hendra G-protein is put into the cell’s DNA. It then produces Hendra G-protein, which is harvested.
The Australian Veterinary Association has recommended all horses be vaccinated, with a national vaccination register to be established. The vaccine, a course of two injections, does not cause any side effects.
The multi-disciplinary team of up to 60 researchers included virologists, molecular biologists, pathologists and protein chemists. Scientists came from the CSIRO, the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in the US and commercial partner Pfizer.
Deadly human link ends with horse vaccine for Hendra virus
Imagine higher agricultural yields, fewer invasive species, and a new economic product that’s as versatile as it is plentiful: venison. That was the vision of the founders of the Maui Axis Deer Harvesting Cooperative (MADHC), a new initiative organized by the County of Maui. Its goal is to help farmers, ranchers and landowners control invasive axis deer on their property while addressing food security with zero waste. MADHC members are a group of certified, trained, hunters who can provide harvesting services to those receiving damage from axis deer. The meat will be shared between hunters and landowners, and in some cases, local slaughterhouses will process meat for resale.
While the cooperative is already active on Maui, some Molokai residents are looking at the possibilities for the Friendly Isle — turning venison into a trademark specialty while helping out farmers with deer problems. Phyllis Robinson, one of MADHC’s founders and pilot coordinator, said it’s still early in the process, but her goal is to be able to incorporate Molokai and Lanai into the program.
“We’d like to plant the seed of awareness,” she said. “It could be helpful to have a coordinated effort county-wide but unique efforts on each island.”
Robinson said she has been in communication with Molokai axis deer rancher and hunter Desmond Manaba to explore the possibility of establishing an auxiliary board on Molokai to organize similar services on the island and be part of the cooperative umbrella.
Manaba, who has been deer ranching on Molokai for 18 years, said he sees tremendous potential economic benefit axis deer. Continue reading
Hawaii’s beef market is backward. Nearly all the beef eaten here — 95 percent — arrives packaged on container ships from the U.S. mainland. At the same time, Hawaii cattle ranchers ship 40,000 live cattle each year to California, Kansas and other states, while just 4,000 are slaughtered for meat sales in Hawaii.
The economics made sense for decades. Huge slaughterhouses elsewhere could process beef more efficiently than smaller ones in Hawaii, and it’s cheaper to send cattle to the mainland to be fattened than to bring in corn or other grains to feed calves after they’re weaned.
Now, national interest in locally grown food and grass-fed beef has caught on in Hawaii — offering ranchers plenty of reason to escape this paradox. But the opportunity comes as crushing drought has made it difficult to keep enough cattle here to capitalize on the demand.
Rancher and veterinarian Dr. Tim Richards has been trying for six years to raise more cattle on his family’s century-old ranch. He holds back some calves he previously would have sent to Oregon, Texas or elsewhere for final feeding, or “finishing.” But eight years of below-normal rainfall have left little grass for the cattle to eat.
“You put them out, and then it doesn’t rain and then instead of growing, they just sort of stand around,” Continue reading
Two Australian ships holding thousands of sheep have been rejected from loading in Kuwait and Bahrain and remain at sea.
The Australian ship Ocean Drover, carrying 22,000 sheep, has been blocked from unloading in Bahrain since the end of August.
The sheep have already been on the water for 33 days.
Kuwait has also rejected a shipment exported by the Australian company Emanuel’s on the Kuwaiti ship Al Shuwaikh. About 50,000 sheep are on board the ship and was due to dock a week ago.
There are unconfirmed reports that the carrier is now moving its cargo to shore.
According to the Australian agriculture department, the shipments are both infected with the disease scabby mouth.
After the Cormo Express case, in which more than 5,000 sheep died, Australia signed memoranda of understanding with destination countries that oblige them to accept live exports into feedlots within 36 hours, including into quarantine, if needed.
But the new cases suggest procedures for animal welfare in the live export trade have failed.
Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon says the situation is unacceptable.
“The memorandum of understanding now looks like worthless bits of paper,” she said.
“What they require is for the sheep to be unloaded within 36 hours of docking.
Parker Ranch and local investment firm Ulupono Initiative will jointly fund research into large-scale grass-fed beef production on Hawaii island.
The trials will involve 200 head of cattle on 300 acres from September through May of 2013.
“This local product strategy should ensure that we have the capacity to produce high quality and consistent market cattle in Hawaii at a competitive price,” said Dutch Kuyper, CEO of Parker Ranch, in a statement.
“It is an honor for us to partner with Parker Ranch … to support the pre-commercialization trials of large-scale grass-fed beef,” said Kyle Datta, Ulupono general partner.
If you go to Hawaii and don’t watch people surf then you’ve missed a big part of the culture. Even in Makawao, the town full of cowboys, hippies and art that was my first stop on Maui, I found a little surf shop. Hawaiians will be Hawaiian.
That said, there’s something different about the little drive to Makawao, something authentic. You have to pass through the trendy town of Pa’ia, which is also has a hippy and artistic flavor to it, although its far more developed and crowded than Makawao to the south along Route 390.
They have some charming little restaurants and shops in Pa’ia, which is a great place to meet up with friends in one of the fudge, coffee or ice cream shops.
Cafe Des Amis in Pa’ia has a very hospitable staff and fabulous crepes. There was a cute 30-year-old (I asked) Australian working behind the counter when I was there the first time and when I asked if they were on Twitter, he said: “What’s that?”
Along the way, there aren’t a lot of “big things” to see and do, but if you pay close enough attention, you’ll catch the smaller charming things you should take in, like the Hali’imaile General Store. There are sugar cane fields in all directions, all irrigated by water from the Hana coast.
Located on the mid-slopes of Maui’s Haleakala volcano, Makawao has one foot in its plantation past and another in its arts community. While this town is far from big, it is apparently the biggest little town in the region locally known as Upcountry Maui and is famous for its Hawaiian cowboys, or paniolo. While it may not feel quite as upcountry as it does further south along Route 377, it does cool off a little at night, although it was very hot and sunny when I was there. Continue reading
FIRST PHOTO: Makawao Rodeo 2012 Queen Lauren Egger (on barrel) and Princess Jessica Hartley get the royal treatment from Hartley’s horse Sonny while competing in a Rescue Race at the Upcountry Farm and Ag Fair on Saturday afternoon at Oskie Rice Arena in Olinda. In the race, competitors must saddle their horse and race to rescue their partner stranded atop a barrel.
SECOND PHOTO: This duo toppled the barrel, however, and Sonny bolted into the air, landed with stiff legs and knocked the girls out of the race. The event also featured the Maui 4-H Livestock Show and Auction. The two-day event concludes today with animal showmanship contests scheduled to start at 9 a.m.
Exotic and inquisitive, alpacas are charismatic pets and are prized for their luxurious fleeces. But an owner has warned that many alpaca keepers are in denial about the risk of bovine TB after she caught the potentially fatal disease from one of her animals.
Dianne Summers, a 51-year-old owner of 20 alpacas from Cornwall, warned that without the compulsory testing of alpacas bovine TB would “spread among our animals like wildfire”.
The first known person in Britain to contract bovine TB from alpacas, Summers fears that petting zoos could be “riddled” with the disease, posing a risk to the public, vets and other animals, and called on the government to close a loophole that allows alpacas, llamas and other camelids to escape being tested for bovine TB.
Alpacas are treated as low-risk animals in the transmission of bovine TB, but last month up to 500 alpacas were slaughtered by government vets after TB was detected on an alpaca farm in Burgess Hill, East Sussex. TB outbreaks have occurred in 58 alpaca herds – around 5% of the total – in the UK since 1999. There are more than 30,000 alpacas in Britain, including some which are regularly encountered by the public at country shows, and on open farms and walking trails.
According to the Health Protection Agency, the risk to the public of catching bovine TB – which constitutes less than 1% of the total number of human TB cases in the UK – is extremely low. But guidance from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to farmers warns that, unlike cattle, camelids can spit a mixture of gastric contents and saliva, which could spread the disease to humans.
The National Farmers Union said farmers were very concerned about the lack of regulation of TB in alpacas, which may spread the disease to other farm animals. Continue reading
A federal court on Thursday ordered the FDA to follow through on a 35-year-old proposal that would have banned the use of certain antibiotics in animal feed because the agency was concerned that these drugs were overused in livestock and helped develop drug-resistant bacteria that can infect people.
The concern is that some antibiotics given to treat illnesses in people are widely used on animals to promote disease prevention and weight gain, as well as compensate for crowded conditions on ranches and farms. The prevalence of those antibiotics in livestock has been linked in several studies to the creation of drug-resistant “superbugs” that can spread to humans who work with or eat the animals.
In 1977, the Food and Drug Administration proposed banning the use of penicillin and two forms of tetracyline for growth promotion. But the proposal has been in limbo ever since. The agency never held hearings or took any further action, prompting the Natural Resources Defense Council and four other health and consumer advocacy groups to sue the government in May 2011.
A federal district court in Manhattan ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on Thursday, compelling the FDA to press forward with its initial plan to start proceedings that could lead to a withdrawal of the drugs. Continue reading
Every day, inspectors in white hats and coats take up positions at every one of the nation’s slaughterhouses, eyeballing the hanging carcasses of cows and chickens as they shuttle past on elevated rails, looking for bruises, tumors and signs of contamination.
It’s essentially the way U.S. Department of Agriculture food safety inspectors have done their jobs for a century, ever since Upton Sinclair’s blockbuster novel, “The Jungle,” exposed horrid conditions in a Chicago meatpacking facility and shook Americans awake to the hazards of tainted food.
But these days, the bulk of what Americans eat — seafood, vegetables, fruit, dairy products, shelled eggs and almost everything except meat and poultry — is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. And the FDA inspects the plants it oversees on average about once a decade.
These radically different approaches are a legacy from a time when animal products were thought to be inherently risky and other food products safe. But in the past few years, the high-profile and deadly outbreaks of food-borne illness linked to spinach, peanuts and cantaloupe have put the lie to that assumption.
The FDA’s approach is partly by necessity: The agency lacks the money to marshal more inspectors.
But it also reflects a different philosophy about how to address threats to the nation’s food supply: an approach based on where the risk is greatest.
The agency concentrates its limited inspections on food products that have the worst track record on safety — seafood, for example — and on companies with a history of problems. It puts most of its efforts into responding to outbreaks after the fact, using genetic fingerprinting and other scientific tools to track contaminants back to their source in hopes of stopping any further spread. Continue reading