Weird Medicine

New ‘Contagious’ Vaccine Shows Promise To Control Rabies, Other Diseases

When scientists talk about something contagious it is always a disease that may affect many people or animals. However, a team of researchers said it can also have positive effects. 

A new vaccine has been created that can be shared by one animal to another through close contact, just like how virus spreads. Researchers said it may soon change how the medical community improve immunity and avoid certain diseases.

The current form of the contagious vaccine is designed to control rabies in wild bats. Researchers created a glowing fluorescent gel that can be easily applied orally or topically. 

The new vaccine, described in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, appeared effective reducing rabies transmission in wild vampire bats during tests in Peru. It also led to lower risk of infections in humans and livestock.

The gel contains a fluorescent tracer dye called Rhodamine B. The vaccine spreads between bats through oral contact during grooming. 

The fluorescent dye stayed in the animal’s hair follicles, which enabled researchers to monitor the bat-to-bat spread of the rabies vaccine. 

Contagious Vaccine vs. Traditional Method

Researchers said that a single bat carrying the contagious rabies vaccines could help protect 2.6 bats, higher than a single bat protected by conventional non-spreadable vaccines. The team used mathematical models to observe how the vaccine transfer would reduce the probability, size and duration of rabies outbreaks.

“We provide the first evidence that vaccinating bats could lead to meaningful reductions in human and livestock rabies,” Kevin Bakker, lead study author and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Michigan, said. 

To date, vampire bat rabies affects thousands of people across Latin America. Estimates show it contributes to 960 deaths per 100,000 residents, Futurity reported Tuesday

“Until recently, controlling diseases in reclusive animals like wild bats seemed unimaginable,” Daniel Streicker, senior study author and a senior research fellow at the University of Glasgow, said. “Our findings reveal the exciting potential for using a new generation of spreadable vaccine technologies to protect human and animal health by fighting diseases within their wildlife hosts.”

The researchers hope to continue testing the contagious vaccine and to include other types of diseases. 

Vampire bat Vampire bat rabies affects thousands of people across Latin America, contributing to 960 deaths per 100,000 residents. Uwe Schmidt/Wikimedia Commons

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