East Coast fever (ECF), or theileriosis, is a serious, often fatal, disease of cattle that causes major economic losses in eastern, central and southern Africa. ECF is caused by the single-celled parasite Theileria parva, which is transmitted by the brown ear tick (Rhipicephalus appendiculatus) as it feeds on cattle. The 11 countries affected by the disease are mostly in East, Central and Southern Africa – Burundi, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, DRC, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
ECF is a significant constraint to improved productivity of cattle in the affected countries. It kills large numbers of calves in pastoralists’ herds and is also a serious threat to smallholder dairy farmers for whom the death of a valuable dairy cow can be a devastating blow.
Drugs to treat the disease are very expensive, though effective if treatment is started early. And the only vaccination approach available against T. parva is the Infection and Treatment Method (ITM): cattle are given a subcutaneous dose of tick-derived parasites and a simultaneous treatment with a long-acting tetracycline.
To date, uptake of the vaccine has been constrained by the need for a liquid nitrogen cold-chain, lack of awareness, cost, the need for expert veterinary support and limited availability.