Vaccines in the time of foodborne illness

by Erica Shaffer
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GENEVA – Combating foodborne illness may become as simple as taking a shot.

The World Health Organization says that foodborne viruses, bacteria and other pathogens caused roughly 582 million cases of intestinal infection and 351,000 deaths in 2010. So, food safety became the theme for the World Health Day 2015, which was April 7. WHO issued a report documenting the ongoing analysis of the global burden of foodborne diseases. Among the agency's findings:

• the enteric disease agents responsible for most deaths were Salmonella Typhi (52 000 deaths), enteropathogenic E. coli (37,000) and norovirus (35,000);

• the African region recorded the highest disease burden for enteric foodborne disease, followed by South-East Asia;

• more than 40 percent people suffering from enteric diseases caused by contaminated food were children aged under 5 years.

Along with its research findings, WHO recommended measures to lessen the economic and health impacts of foodborne illnesses. These measures include ensuring that health workers are trained and equipped to treat individuals stricken by foodborne illness. Part of the solution includes vaccines that protect consumers against foodborne pathogens.

Safe and effective vaccines already exist for rotavirus and cholera. More recently, researchers at the Richard B. Russell Agricultural Research Center in Athens, Ga. identified a potential vaccine for Campylobacter.

As part of their experiments, researchers purified proteins from Campylobacter and tested them for potential use as vaccines. One particular protein, FliD, showed particular promise. Scientists working on the project concluded that FliD is an excellent candidate for further evaluation as a vaccine to reduce Campylobacter in poultry.

On the consumer side, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committed more than $50 million to groups seeking to develop vaccines to fight Shigella and enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETECH). The foundation plans to commit another $64 million to those programs through 2018.

ETEC and Shigella are common pathogens in most regions of the developing world. They are major causes of moderate-to-severe diarrhea in children under age 5. The Gates Foundation's partner in the development of new ETEC and Shigella vaccines is the PATH Enteric Vaccine Initiative (EVI). EVI is working on a portfolio of vaccines with the goal of a combination vaccine that will be licensed by 2025.

Also, Osaka, Japan-based Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Ltd. is testing a vaccine against norovirus in phase 2 clinical trials. Findings in Phase 1 trials included a reduction of symptoms, while the side effects of the vaccine were mild and of limited duration.

The need for vaccine interventions has become urgent even in the developed world. The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that multidrug-resistant Shigella is spreading in the United States.

The CDC found that of 243 cases of Shigellosis diagnosed between May 2014 and February 2015, nearly 90 percent of the cases tested were resistant to ciproflaxin, an antibiotic that is the first choice to treat Shigellosis.

“It often takes a crisis for the collective consciousness on food safety to be stirred and any serious response to be taken,” said Dr. Kazuaki Miyagishima, director of WHO’s Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses. “The impacts on public health and economies can be great. A sustainable response, therefore, is needed that ensures standards, checks and networks are in place to protect against food safety risks.”
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