A plague vaccine developed by the U.S. Army was shown to be effective
in a new experiment attempting to incorporate “real world” conditions,
the Billings Gazette reported today (see
GSN, Feb. 19).
Researchers at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Mont.,
replicated a natural infection process by transmitting the disease from
fleas to mice. Scientists normally test vaccines by directly injecting
an inoculated subject with the pathogen, but natural transmission of
plague is not so straightforward, said Joseph Hinnebusch, the lead
researcher of the experiment (Jennifer McKee,
Billings Gazette, March 25).
The new vaccine was invented at the U.S. Army Medical Research
Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md., and proved
100-percent effective in the Rocky Mountain study, according to the
National Institutes of Health.
The new research showed that the vaccine worked “in a real-world
context,” Hinnebusch said in an NIH press release.
He said an older vaccine, available until the mid-1990s, is no longer
manufactured due to multiple side effects and its short-term
effectiveness. He said development of an effective plague vaccine is a
“Two factors — the threat of antibiotic-resistant plague and the
possible use of plague by bioterrorists — have the public health system
scrambling to come up with an effective vaccine and alternative
treatments,” Hinnebusch said. “Plague has been used as a bioweapon
before and it could be again,” he added (National
Institutes of Health Release, March 24).
The use of plague as a weapon has a long history, beginning with the
Tartars’ siege of the Ukrainian port city of Kaffa in 1346, when the
invaders hurled their plague-infested dead over the city walls, forcing
it to surrender. In 1422 the Lithuanian Prince Coribut flung
plague-stricken bodies plus 2,000 cartloads of excrement into enemy
troops at the Battle of Carolstein. In 1710, Russian troops flung the
corpses of plague victims over the city walls of Reval during Russia’s
war with Sweden. More recently, Japan used plague bacteria, including
biological bombs, on China during World War II (ABCNews.com,
Oct. 8, 2001).