Vaccine puts blood-sucking ticks off their food

Ticks spread a greater variety of diseases than any other blood-feeding creature, including mosquitoes. Now scientists are developing vaccines that prevent ticks from digesting the blood of their animal or human victim, according to research presented today (Monday 08 April 2002) at the spring meeting of the Society for General Microbiology at the University of Warwick.

“A new solution to controlling tick-borne diseases is to develop vaccines against the ticks and not the microbes that cause the diseases. We have experimental vaccines containing molecules found on the tick’s gut wall which prevent the digestion of the blood meal and stop females from laying their eggs,” says Dr Olivier Sparagano of Newcastle University.

Dr Sparagano explains, “These prototype vaccines can greatly reduce the fertility of female ticks and the survival of their larvae. By reducing tick populations we may improve animal health and welfare as well as reducing the risk of diseases being spread to humans. Human tick-borne diseases include tick-borne encephalitis and Lyme disease for instance.”

“Tick-borne diseases are found more commonly abroad for example in Southern Europe, Africa and Asia, but they may now be on the increase in the UK. Lyme disease bacteria have now been found in Scottish ticks. Changes to the pet quarantine system and restocking following the foot and mouth epidemic may lead to disease imports from abroad. Furthermore, the climate is becoming more favourable for ticks. We need to recognise these risks and put control measures in place,” says Dr Sparagano.

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