Tackling the East coast fever parasite in Africa

East coast fever already threatens some 30 million cattle in East and Central Africa. According to ILRI, death and disease from this parasite has not only caused great financial losses but is also challenging the livelihoods of pastoralist herders and farmers in this region.

According to a recently released report by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI); the cattle killer East Coast fever finds a protective process that may also be at work in human malaria.

The study, ‘Co-infections determine patterns of mortality in a population exposed to parasite infections’,  perceives that African cattle infected with a lethal parasite that kills one million cows per year are less likely to die when co-infected with the parasite’s milder cousin. The study published in Science Advances journal suggests that ‘fighting fire with fire’ is a strategy that might work against a range of parasitic diseases.

Conducted as part of an Infectious Diseases of East African Livestock (IDEAL) project, the study, is a multi-partner study that includes the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). The project followed more than 500 indigenous East African shorthorn zebu calves during their first year of life.

The calves live in a part of Western Kenya where they are routinely exposed to both the T. parva parasite and its less aggressive relatives. T. parva causes high fever and, like cancer, promotes uncontrollable proliferation of white blood cells. Its relatively innocuous cousins, such as Theileria mutans, typically cause chronic but mild infections that may have no symptoms at all. The researchers discovered that co-infection with a lesser parasite was associated with an impressive 89 per cent reduction in deaths from East Coast fever.

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