A Vaccine for Sweet Itch?

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Sweet itch is one of those horrible ailments, that while not being life threatening or fatal causes a huge amount of pain and anxiety. It is a declarable condition under UK sale law. You must state that your horse has sweet itch if you sell it, and it can reduce the value of the horse. If you have a horse with sweet itch, it can be managed using a combination of fly rugs and various lotions.

Sweet itch is the allergic reaction to the biting of the Culicoides midge. The warm damp climate of the UK provides an ideal habitat for the Culicoides. These midges are particularly prevalent at both dawn and dusk. Much research has been done into sweet itch and it is now know that certain horses are genetically pre-disposed to the condition. These are mainly native breeds including Welsh, Shetland, Connemara, Shire and Icelandic.

The condition is caused when the immune system reacts excessively to the bite of the Culicoides. It gives the horse severe itching, which if left untreated can result in the horse rubbing itself until raw. If not managed the condition can be very painful. Sweet itch can occur in horses that have never had it before, sometimes on changing yards. Conversely moving horses to a different yard can help reduce the sweet itch. It is noted that the local environment seems to have a massive bearing on the susceptibility of the horses to the condition.

However researchers at Benchmark have collaborated with the Swiss biotech company Evax AG. Together they are in the process of developing a vaccine. Scientists have identified the excessive adaptive immune system functions into four types. With this knowledge they can begin to develop the vaccine. The vaccine will be trialled extensively but it is hoped that, if successful, the vaccine will be available as a treatment option to European, US and Canadian vets in 2020-2021.

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