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Research has shown that it could be possible to fight parasitic diseases by vaccinating against animals such as mosquitoes and ticks that spread them, rather than against the parasites themselves.

This new approach could be applied to a vast range of diseases, and is attractive for developing countries because it is a relatively 'low tech' procedure, say the researchers, whose findings appear in the latest issue of PLoS Pathogens.

Patricia Nuttall of the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and colleagues showed that vaccinating mice against a protein produced in tick saliva protected the mice from a deadly virus the ticks transmit.

It worked by promoting an immune reaction in the mice that impaired the ticks' ability to attach and feed. The immune reaction also killed the ticks by making their guts rupture.

Nuttall's team found that the vaccine was as effective as one used commercially to protect cattle from the same virus.

“This proof of concept will raise enthusiasm to start exploring this more seriously,” says malaria researcher Sanjeev Krishna of St George’s University of London, United Kingdom.

Bloodsucking creatures such as ticks and mosquitoes transmit hundreds of microbes, including those that cause leishmaniasis, malaria and viral encephalitis.

Controlling these biting animals currently relies on using insect repellents or pesticides, which, if used on a large scale, pose threats to human health and the environment.

Link to full paper in PLoS Pathogens

Reference: PLoS Pathogens 2, e27 (2006)

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