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Development of an attenuated live heartwater vaccine for use in domestic ruminants


Heartwater is a fatal tick-borne disease of cattle, sheep, goats, and some wild ruminants. It is characterized by high fever, respiratory distress, and may be accompanied by nervous symptoms. The annual economic losses due to heartwater in southern Africa are estimated to be US$48 million. Heartwater poses a major economic constraint to the livelihoods of women and youth, who are more likely to keep small ruminants and who have little access to the main disease control methods.

Why is an improved heartwater vaccine necessary?

The current heartwater vaccine is not farmer-friendly because it requires intravenous injections by veterinary health professionals, post-vaccination treatment with antibiotics, expensive transportation and storage at ultra-cold temperatures, and it does not protect against most strains circulating in the field. As a blood-based vaccine, there is also a risk of other diseases being transmitted.

Developing an improved solution

In this project, Onderstepoort Biological Products will optimize the processes of producing a new live attenuated tissue culture-derived heartwater vaccine developed by the Agricultural Research Council Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute. The project will also attempt to stabilize the vaccine by freeze-drying to remove the need for a cold chain during storage and transportation. Unlike the current vaccine, this new vaccine will be administered intramuscularly, and without the need for concurrent antibiotics, making it more accessible and possibly cheaper to smallholder farmers.

Expected results

The expected outcome of this project is an improved production process and vaccine for the effective and affordable prevention of heartwater. The innovative production technology will also be transferred to the African Union Centre for Ticks and Tick-Borne Diseases in Malawi.

Lead institutions

This project is a collaboration between Onderstepoort Biological Products and the Agricultural Research Council-Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute in South Africa.

  • Duration: 24 months
  • Budget: CA$1 million