Vaccinating animals to protect humans


Bubonic plague, monkey pox, SARS and West Nile virus all have one thing in common: Animals provided the link that brought these diseases into the human world.

Now a study of Lyme disease suggests a way such maladies might be stymied: take the vaccinations straight to the animal kingdom.

"There is more than one way to try to reduce Lyme disease risk besides relying just on developing vaccines for humans," said Michigan State University disease ecologist Jean Tsao.

Tsao and others propose that vaccines be incorporated into food sources for carriers of the disease - in this case, mice and other forest critters. The study appeared in the Dec. 28 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

From 1998 to 2001, Tsao and other researchers trapped and anesthetized almost 1,000 white-footed mice in southern Connecticut forests. The woods there are hotbeds of Lyme disease, chock-full of ticks that have an affinity for mice.

Using a needle, the researchers gave the mice a shot of vaccine, tagged them, re-hydrated and sent them back into the forest. The mice developed immunity to the Lyme bacteria, Tsao said. When an infected tick fed on an immunized mouse, the mouse's antibodies killed the bacterium inside the tick - leaving it unthreatening to humans.

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