Every year people adopt pet dogs, cats, birds, and other creatures and take them to their local veterinarians for all the usual vaccinations and exams. The usual vaccinations protect your pets from diseases like rabies, distemper, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, and Feline Leukemia. But it's not just pets that get protected by vaccines. Agricultural creatures: fish, chickens, sheep, cows, pigs, and horses receive vaccines and increasingly, wild animals are getting vaccinated, too.
One example comes from the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. They are looking at ways to protect wild gorillas from Ebola virus. In addition to the many challenges that wild gorillas face, the center claims that Ebola virus has killed about a third of the gorillas in protected areas during the last 15 years (1). Another example comes from Europe, where they vaccinate wild foxes against rabies in several different countries (2). In the United States, we're vaccinating raccoons against rabies, in New York (3), investigating the possibility of vaccinating mice against Lyme disease (4), and looking at ways to vaccinate bison and elk against Brucellosis (5, 6).
It is true that many of wild-animal vaccine campaigns are driven from a desire to protect humans or agricultural animals. Rabies is a scary disease and no one wants to be attacked by a rabid raccoon. (If you want to know what that's like, This American Life has a first-hand account in their program archives. It costs 0.95$ to download but it's well worth it.)
The drive to vaccinate bison and elk against Brucellosis is driven by the desire to protect domestic bison, cattle, and humans. In cattle, infections with Brucella abortus damage overall health and can cause cows to abort their offspring. If people consume unpasteurized milk or cheese made from animal products, they can be infected, too. The symptoms of Brucellosis are fever, sweats, headaches, back pains, and physical weakness. These infections are not common in the U.S., and the Brucella bacteria have been eliminated from domestic cattle (in the U.S.), however, these bacteria do appear in wild animals, generating concern that cattle could acquire the disease from wild bison or elk. (7)
What do these cases have to do with animal research? In the United States, animal vaccines are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Center for Veterinary Biologics (CVB). Like the vaccines produced for humans, the vaccines produced for animals must be pure, potent, safe, and they must work. This means that all the vaccines that are given to your pets, agricultural animals, and wild animals were tested on lab animals to make sure that the vaccines are safe and that they work.
- Efficient Wildlife Disease Control: From Social Network Self-organization to Optimal Vaccination, accessed Aug. 13th, 2008.
- Hostnik, P. et. al. 2006. Control of Rabies in Slovenia, Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 42(2), pp. 459-465.
- Wildlife Rabies Vaccination Project fact sheet. New York State Department of Health.
- Broad-based Vaccination Of Wild Mice Could Help Reduce Lyme Disease Risk In Humans. ScienceDaily
- Louis Pons, Scientists "Go Ballistic"Against Brucellosis.
- Roffe, T. et. al. 2004. Efficacy of single calfhood vaccination of elk with Brucella abortus STRAIN 19, Journal of Wildlife Management, pp 830-836.
- Brucellosis, General Information, 2008. Brucellosis fact sheet, Centers for Disease Control.