The USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) National Research Initiative (NRI), is funding scientists in Arizona who are developing a new vaccine for the poultry disease, Avian Pathogenic Escherichia coli (APEC) which, in turn, may improve animal and human health.
APEC has the potential to be as harmful as E. coli O157:H7, the strain responsible for human illness and death after consumption of contaminated meat. The genetic similarity between APEC and human E. coli has led scientists to suspect poultry as a source of Extra-intestinal Pathogenic E. coli (ExPEC), which is associated with urethral infections, sepsis, and meningitis.
The vaccine produced during this project may lead to additional protection for humans against another pathogen, Salmonella. “We have to understand how bacteria cause disease so that we can know the best way to fight them,” associate research scientist Melha Mellata said. “We came up with a project where we would protect chickens, not only from E. coli infection, but also Salmonella, and in doing so, improve human health.”
Antibiotics, the long-time first line of defence to prevent APEC, have lost their potency as the bacteria have grown more resistant to treatment. “It’s becoming increasingly important to develop a vaccine to prevent bacterial infection in poultry,” Mellata said. “Poultry is not only a daily food staple, but also a key to human health. For example, the entire supply of annual human flu vaccine production is made from eggs.”
Impact on humans
The new vaccine under development is designed to be effective against both E. coli and Salmonella. The scientists have already developed three vaccines that are effective against multiple strains of Salmonella in livestock. By freeing animals from Salmonella, the vaccine may prevent it from travelling down the food chain to people. The vaccines, which were approved by the FDA for use in swine and poultry, are currently on the market.
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