Pneumonia in foals can be a life-threatening illness. Rhodococcus equi, which is the common cause of foal pneumonia, can cause additional damage to a foal's body, including affecting organs, lymph nodes, bones, joints and the brain. Fatality for infected foals ranges from 20 to 40 percent. To date, there is no licensed vaccine.
Morris Animal Foundation has provided funding for research for the creation of a vaccine that could prevent foal pneumonia. Both Texas A&M and Harvard Medical School were involved in the vaccine creation research and a paper was published in PLOS Pathogens regarding the vaccines creation.
For the trial, pregnant mares were vaccinated at three and six weeks prior to giving birth; the mares transferred antibodies to their foals through their colostrum and the foals were protected from contracting pneumonia.
The next phase of the trial used nine foals that were already diagnosed with R. equi; five were given a hyperimmune serum that contained antibodies against R. equi pneumonia and those foals were protected. The foals that received standard plasma (with no antibodies) developed pneumonia.
Further safety testing is needed, but the trial suggests that immunizing donor horses and using their plasma in a transfusion to foals can prevent R. equi pneumonia, as can vaccinating pregnant mares.
It is believed that this vaccine may also have the potential to protect against sepsis, which is the leading cause of death in foals.
Read more at Science Daily.
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