R&D: Three-day vaccine remains effective

Jon Condon, 10/01/2013


Recent research has proven that the currently-available vaccine for Bovine Ephemeral Fever (BEF), also known as three-day sickness, remains effective in neutralising field strains of the virus.  

The project follows concerns expressed by some producers about increases in the incidence of three-day sickness, which they suspected may have been linked to mutation of the virus over time, and subsequent lower efficacy of the vaccine.

BEF, or three-day sickness, is transmitted by biting insects such as midges and mosquitoes in tropical and subtropical areas, but recent outbreaks have also occurred further south, as weather patterns have changed.

The disease is estimated to cost the Australian beef industry $90–100 million a year in lost productivity.

As the name implies, BEF symptoms may only last a short time, but infection can result in significant, long-term economic losses.

In light of the economic burden, Meat and Livestock Australia’s Donor Company recently co-funded research to examine the efficacy of the current BEF vaccine across northern Australia, using virus field samples taken from 1980 through to 2011.

The results confirmed that the current vaccine reliably neutralises field strains of the virus, when applied according to the manufacturer’s instructions. In effect, this means the current vaccine remains effective in protecting against three-day sickness in Australia.

Vaccination is the only method of preventing BEF, according to Dr Georgia Deliyannis, senior principal scientist with Pfizer Veterinary Medicine Research and Development (VMRD), who led the project.

“The research indicates there has been no significant change to the virus in Australia in over 30 years, and the current vaccine was shown to be effective across a range of virus samples collected in the field,” she said.

“Proper and timely vaccination is one of the most important measures producers can implement to safeguard their business,” she said.

“The research conducted by Pfizer VMRD provides reassurance that vaccination offers protection against current strains of BEF viruses. However, it is important to recognise that immunity is not instantaneous. Based on our research, a peak serological response equated to protection generally occurring around 2- 4 weeks after the initial vaccination course,” Dr Deliyannis said.

The optimal time to provide the initial dose is generally in the months leading up to summer, with a second dose two to four weeks later. In animals that have been vaccinated in previous years, an annual booster eight to ten weeks before peak BEF season was recommended, she said.

The next phase of the R&D project is to develop an inactivated single-dose vaccine that may lead to widespread use of the vaccination as an effective means of controlling BEF outbreaks in Australia.

Protection reminder

As (normal) summer weather conditions create peak conditions for disease transmitting insects, beef producers in Queensland and NSW, particularly, are being reminded to protect herds from three-day sickness.

The impact can be more severe in bulls, fat/well-conditioned cows and pregnant and lactating cows resulting in serious economic losses through reduced milk production, weight loss, lowered fertility, mismothering of calves and deaths. These losses take time to regain and can severely impact profitability of cattle enterprises.

Producers should speak to their veterinarian for more information on an appropriate vaccination plan for their herd.

  • MLA’s Donor Company generates funds from commercial and government contributions. No producer levies were used to implement the BEF vaccine research.


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  1. russel king carlos, 30/10/2015

    I am a cattle raiser from the Philippines. Where can I buy BOVINE EPHEMERAL FEVER VACINE for my cattle?
    Thank you

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