Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Vaccinate ‘em — It’s better than antibiotics or snake oil

By Don “Doc” Sanders

There’s an exciting world out there when it comes to vaccines and their ability to protect us and our animals from disease.

Most of you likely are aware that a vaccine, when given at the appropriate time and by the correct route, stimulates the immune systems of people and animals. We have vaccines for tetanus, whooping cough, polio, classical swine fever (hog cholera), many strains of salmonella (in animals), Rota virus, some Corona viruses in pigs and calves, distemper, rabies, Herpes I virus in cattle and horses…the list goes on and on.

However, there isn’t a vaccine for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in deer. This disease causes a gradual wasting away of body reserves, drooling, stumbling and incoordination, swallowing difficulty and eventually death. CWD is not caused by a virus or bacteria, but rather what might appear to be a harmless protein, called a prion. Prions settle in the brain, where they multiply. This causes some of the normal prion proteins to refold into an abnormal shape, leading to CWD.

The immune system doesn’t recognize prions as dangerous, so there is no immune response mounted against them. As a result, CWD is becoming epidemic in deer in many states. While CWD has been minimal in Ohio, other states such as Wisconsin and Michigan have major concerns because of high numbers of cases diagnosed in deer bagged during hunting season. Deer diagnosed with the disease are destroyed. They should never be consumed.

Prions cause a similar disease in cows that you may know as mad cow disease. Prions also cause a brain-destroying disease in people, called Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (CJD). CJD was first described infecting humans in about 1920 in Europe. In 1996, a variant CJD strain of prions was described in cattle. Ultimately mad cow disease was linked to feeding meat by-products from mad cow disease-infected cattle. Mad cow disease was very prevalent in Europe in the ‘90s and was considered an epidemic at the time. The original prion disease, CJD, was diagnosed in people a half century before a different but similar disease was recognized in cattle. The newly diagnosed strain infecting cows was a variant strain of CJD and was named mad cow disease. Mad cow disease has since been diagnosed in people a few times.

The good news is that a vaccine is in early development to prevent CWD. This prion vaccine has been proven to delay the onset of prion infection in mice. Since mice have very short lives, the vaccine now needs to be tested on deer. The next challenge will be to develop an oral form of the vaccine that can be placed in deer bait stations.

Can a prion vaccine also be developed for humans? It certainly looks like a strong possibility, based on the recent advances.

Another major disease concern is African Swine Fever (ASF) in pigs. The U.S. has never had ASF, but the disease would have a very serious impact here if it ever reached us. You may have read about this deadly swine disease as it sweeps across China and other areas of Asia and Russia. Within three to four days on contracting ASF, 90% of infected hogs die. ASF does not infect humans or other animals — just swine.

While primarily contagious by direct contact with infected pigs, the disease spread like wildfire as Chinese pig farmers shipped infected hogs for slaughter and processing. Tourists also play a role is the disease’s spread when they smuggle specialty pork products in their luggage as they’re returning home from infected countries. Recently, nearly a million pounds of infected Chinese pork and noodles were intercepted at the U.S. border with the help of import inspection dogs.

The U.S. pork industry and the USDA are on edge because of the great risk of infected meat being brought into the country in luggage or food. When this happens (and it likely will), it will throw the U.S. into an unimaginable turmoil. Major quarantines will be set up around infected areas, and transportation will be restricted in and out of these areas. It won’t be just pig farmers who are inconvenienced. All of us will be.

The good news is that Huvepharma, a pharmaceutical company in Bulgaria, has developed an ASF vaccine. The vaccine is proving effective in early trials. The USDA had granted a provisional license for its use while further validation is performed.

In general, vaccines contribute positively to us and also our animals’ health. Yet, in the U.S. there is a group of people, the “anti-vaxxers,” who decline to get their children vaccinated against common childhood diseases.

We need to understand that no vaccine is 100% effective. Nor is any vaccine without risk of allergic reactions. Yet, weighing the benefits of vaccination versus the slight possibility of a reaction is a no-brainer. Pseudo-medical activists, however, claim many sorts of ailments related to the ingredients used to make vaccines. Most of these claims originate out of the south end of a bull headed north.

One claim of anti-vaxxers is that the measles vaccine causes autism in children. Science has disproven this. When autism occurs, vaccinations are the first thing blamed, rather than considering the possible effect of women having children later in life — which is known to be a contributing factor. Late-in-life pregnancies result from fertilization of mature, late-ovulating eggs, which have been shown related to autism and defects in the DNA code in the ovulated eggs. Genetics also appear to be involved.

Contracting measles poses health risks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms can include high fever, cough, runny nose, red, watery eyes, and a rash. And for some people, complications can range from ear infections and diarrhea to more severe complications, such as pneumonia and encephalitis, a swelling of the brain, which may require hospitalization and can result in deafness, mental retardation and even death.

So, anti-vaxxers, give us a break. Vaccinate your children and reduce the risk of a larger epidemic of measles sweeping our country — and protect your children from other preventable diseases.


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