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Snotsiekte: Researchers close to vaccine breakthrough

Onderstepoort Biological Products is well on its way to obtain a vaccine that could eradicate ‘snotsiekte’, a disease that causes great losses for the cattle farming community


Mzansi’s state-owned animal vaccine manufacturing company says is well on its way to obtain a vaccine that will eradicate snotsiekte, a notifiable and untreatable viral disease found in cattle.

Snotsiekte is medically known as bovine malignant catarrhal (BMC) fever. Now Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP) has signed a licensing agreement with Scotland-based Moredun Research Institute to acquire the technology which will lead to the final development, registration, and production of the vaccine.

Predominantly transmitted by black and blue wildebeest, this fatal disease has caused serious losses in the South African cattle farming community for many decades.

Virus carried by wildebeest

Snotsiekte: Dr Peter Oberem, the managing director at Afrivet. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi
Dr Peter Oberem, the managing director at Afrivet. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Dr Peter Oberem, Afrivet veterinarian and game farmer, says: “It is a virus carried specifically by healthy wildebeest.

“When the wildebeest become stressed, due to calving or weaning, the immunity is suppressed.

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“They shed the snotsiekte virus from the respiratory tract. Cattle within a kilometre of these shedding wildebeest will begin to show symptoms a month or more after exposure.”

Oberem says thousands of cattle die annually from this disease, which has led to economic losses for cattle producers.

“Affected animals develop severe pneumonia, which results in difficulty breathing and they eventually suffocate from their own mucus. Cattle with advanced cases of snotsiekte are often euthanised to prevent further suffering,” he says.

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Dr Sello Maboe, veterinarian and technical manager at OBP, says there is currently no effective treatment known for the disease. While moving cattle away from wildebeest during high-risk periods helps, having a vaccine will add a layer of protection to cattle herds, especially where movement of animals may not be practical.

Therefore, the availability of an effective vaccine will be a huge milestone for food security in the control of this devastating disease that has become a serious problem in the cattle farming sector in Mzansi.

“This will also help promote a healthy interface between cattle and game farming in future, relieving tension between the two sectors and allowing recognition of the contribution each sector brings to the country’s agricultural economy,” said Maboe.

15 years’ research yields success

Dr George Russell, principal scientist at Moredun Research Institute, said, “We have been working on a protective vaccine for snotsiekte for more than 15 years and following successful experimental as well as field trials of the vaccine in the UK, Kenya, and South Africa. Moredun is delighted to support this partnership with OBP to further develop the vaccine for use in Africa.”

Snotsiekte: Chief executive at Onderstepoort Biological Products, Dr Baptiste Dungu. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi
Chief executive at Onderstepoort Biological Products, Dr Baptiste Dungu. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

“OBP will work with partners in the South African livestock industry to diligently further develop and successfully improve the technologies, with the hopes of registering and launching the snotsiekte vaccine in South Africa,” says the newly appointed CEO at OBP, Dr Baptiste Dungu.

This is a big win for OBP as there is currently no other snotsiekte vaccine available, so it could be made available to other African countries where the disease causes problems, such as Southern and East Africa.

Professor Julie Fitzpatrick, scientific director at Moredun Research Institute, says, “Moredun Research Institute is committed to providing innovative vaccines for common endemic diseases of livestock, wherever they occur.

“The vaccine for bovine malignant catarrhal is a world first. It is greatly hoped that it will reduce disease in cattle and improve the livelihoods of producers across affected parts of Africa.”

ALSO READ: Brucellosis & Covid: ‘Parallel vaccine drive’ needed

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Sinesipho Tom
Sinesipho Tom
Sinesipho Tom is an audience engagement journalist at Food for Mzansi. Before joining the team, she worked in financial and business news at Media24. She has an appetite for news reporting and has written articles for Business Insider, Fin24 and Parent 24. If you could describe Sinesipho in a sentence you would say that she is a small-town girl with big, big dreams.


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