Scottish Scientist leads team in development of Anthrax Vaccine

Scottish Scientist leads team in development of Anthrax Vaccine

Scottish scientist, Sir William Stewart, has led a team responsible for developing an anthrax vaccine in the only laboratory anywhere in the world which is able to manufacture a licensed vaccine against Anthrax. The Centre for Applied Microbiology & Research (CAMR), which is a Special Health Authority responsible to the Department of Health, based at Porton Down, is to supply the vaccine to the Ministry of Defence.

The strategic importance of the anthrax vaccine to the UK was highlighted during the Gulf conflict when it was feared that Iraq would use biological weapons against Allied forces. The development of weapons containing anthrax has led to a threat ofinfection by the aerosol route, resulting in the vaccination being offered to service personnel who may be exposed to such a risk.

This announcement is the culmination of over two years intensive work by staff at the Centre, which has seen the vaccine production unit rebuilt and refurbished at a cost of over £2 million. The result is a state of the art facility which meets all the requirements of a modern pharmaceutical plant.

Sir William Stewart, President of The Royal Society of Edinburgh & Chairman of the Microbiological Research Authority said:

I’m delighted that a British Laboratory has developed this hugely important vaccine, the only lab in the world currently able to do so. It should help to act as a safeguard for the future, ensuring that anyone who might be exposed to anthrax be protected from it. The result of two years of intensive work by committed staff, the development of this anthrax vaccine has been made possible as a result of support from the Department of Health in London.

CAMR is the operating laboratory for The Microbiological Research Authority and is a distinct organisation from the Chemical and Biological Defence sector of DSTL Porton Down, which is responsible to the Ministry of Defence.

For More information contact
Dr Phil Luton, CAMR Business Development
Tel 01980 612725, Fax 01980 612241

Information about Anthrax

What is Anthrax ?
Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax is principally a disease of herbivores (cattle, horses, sheep & goats and various other species) but can also infect man.

Who gets Anthrax?
Anthrax is most common in agricultural regions where it occurs in animals. These include South and Central America, Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East. When anthrax affects humans, it is usually due to an occupational exposure to infected animals or their products. Workers who are exposed to dead animals and animal products (industrial anthrax) from other countries where anthrax is more common may become infected with B. anthracis.

How is Anthrax transmitted?
Anthrax infection can occur in three forms: cutaneous (skin), gastrointestinal, and pulmonary. Most human cases result from handling contaminated animal products (95%+) the remainder are usually due to consumption of contaminated meat. The pulmonary form of Anthrax is only a realistic threat to man in the event of biological weapons being used.

What are the symptoms of Anthrax?
Symptoms of disease vary depending on how the disease was contracted, but symptoms usually occur within seven days.

Cutaneous: Most anthrax infections occur when the bacteria or its spores enter a cut or abrasion on the skin, such as when handling contaminated wool, hides, leather or hair products of infected animals. Skin infection begins as a raised itchy bump that resembles an insect bite but within 1-2 days develops into a vesicle and then a painless ulcer, usually 1-3 cm in diameter, with a characteristic black necrotic (dying) area in the centre. Lymph glands in the adjacent area may swell. About 20% of untreated cases of cutaneous anthrax will result in death. Deaths are rare with appropriate antimicrobial therapy.

Intestinal: The intestinal form of the disease may follow the consumption of contaminated meat and is characterised by an acute inflammation of the intestinal tract. Initial signs of nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, fever are followed by abdominal pain, vomiting of blood, and severe diarrhoea. Intestinal anthrax results in death in 25% to 60% of cases.

Pulmonary: A large number of spores (approx 10,000 +) need to be inhaled in order for pulmonary anthrax to occur. Onset of symptoms would be expected to occur within a couple of days post exposure and would initially include mild fever. Within several days the symptoms progress to severe difficulty in breathing and toxic shock. Fatality estimates of 80-90% have been suggested.

How soon after infection do symptoms appear?
The incubation period is usually within seven days.

When and for how long is a person able to spread anthrax?
There are no reports of the disease spreading from human to human. Direct person-to-person spread of anthrax is extremely unlikely to occur.

What is the treatment for anthrax?
Doctors can prescribe effective antibiotics. Penicillin is the primary antibiotic used with Ciprofloxacin and Doxycycline also being recommended (source DoH), other alternatives include erythromycin, tetracycline, or chloramphenicol. To be effective, treatment should be initiated early.

How many cases of Anthrax occur in the UK ?
Between 1981 and 1999 there were 11 reported cases of human anthrax (Source PHLS) non of which were fatal

What vaccines are available ?
Anthrax vaccines have a long history, the first was developed by Louis Pasteur in the Nineteen Century. The current UK vaccine was first developed in the 1950's and has been a licensed product since 1979. CAMR is the only licensed producer of vaccine available in the UK. The US vaccine, which is similar to but distinct from the UK vaccine, is not currently available due to difficulties with manufacture.

Does the Anthrax Vaccine have any side effects ?
No serious side effects have been reported. Some people may experience a mild rash or swelling at the site of injection or even at the site of an earlier injection usually lasting for about two days. Occasionally swollen glands, mild fever, flu-like symptoms , rash, itching or other allergic reaction may occur, again usually lasting for a day or two.

 

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