Plague (cont.)

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Is there a vaccine against plague?

There are vaccines against plague, but none are commercially available in the U.S. Most vaccines are made from heat-killed and chemically treated Y. pestis bacterial cells. The small amount of vaccine currently available is obtainable from the U.S. government and usually given to only a small number of individuals (for example, researchers working with Y. pestis). Currently, there is interest in further vaccine development and possible production because of potential bioterrorist use of this disease. Recent research indicates that a vaccine that stimulates the production of a pro-inflammatory cytokine (a chemical involved in the immune response) termed IL-17 results in a vaccine that better protects experimental animals from Y. pestis and may be helpful in producing a better vaccine in the future. Currently, a vaccine company, DynPort, is in clinical trials of a new plague vaccine for the U.S. Department of Defense; there is no FDA-approved vaccine against plague.

What research is being done on plague?

Research on the cause of plague, Y. pestis, has increased in recent years due to the threat of its use in potential bioterrorism attacks or as a weapon to subdue or decimate human populations. Genetic studies are under way to help design better vaccines with few side effects. Some Y. pestis strains have been found to have plasmid-generated antibiotic resistance so newer drugs are being tested, alone or in combination, to be ready to treat any outbreaks of these strains. Rapid diagnostic tests are being studied to quickly detect the organisms, especially under battlefield conditions. Such tests may allow better testing to undercover potential environmental (endemic) sites that could lead to outbreaks.

As mentioned in the history section, new research shows that Y. pestis has not changed significantly in hundreds of years. The researchers suggest their findings support the conclusion that factors other than microbial genetics, such as environment, vector dynamics, and host susceptibility, should be at the forefront of epidemiological discussions regarding emerging Y. pestis infections.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/30/2013

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