With a rising world population and economic development, the global demand for meat, milk and other animal products is increasing dramatically. Controlling parasitic diseases in livestock, in particular helminth infections, could rapidly improve productivity and resource utilization. There is a growing interest in indigenous ruminant breeds because these animals have adapted to survive with minimal maintenance in the presence of high exposure to parasite infection. Recent findings on the mechanisms of parasite resistance in indigenous breeds are discussed, and the possibility that such studies may lead to new insight into the immunity and control of parasites proposed. These findings have important implications for the preservation of poorly characterized local indigenous breeds.
The availability of effective vaccines would add a valuable tool to the management of gastrointestinal nematode infections in livestock. While some experimental vaccines have shown protection in laboratory trials, few have been tested in the field. In the present study, eight month old sheep kept on pasture were treated with anthelmintic 8 weeks before vaccination with a larval surface antigen of the nematode parasite, Haemonchus contortus, under a commercially acceptable protocol, i.e. 2 immunizations using a commercial adjuvant; they were then given a controlled challenge infection 4 weeks later in indoor pens. Vaccination of sheep with 4 increasing doses of antigen resulted in significant reductions of 61% and 27% in cumulative faecal egg counts in the two highest dose groups, and a 69% reduction in worm burden in the highest dose group. Blood loss, as determined by packed cell volume, was also significantly reduced in the highest dose group of sheep. One outlier sheep showed an unusual increase in egg count without a concomitant increase in worm burden compared to the control sheep, indicating a vaccine-induced stress response. Antigen-specific serum antibody levels steadily increased in sheep while on pasture and decreased when transported to indoor pens. No difference in antibody levels could be detected between vaccinated and unvaccinated sheep, but all showed increased antibody levels compared to uninfected control sheep kept in indoors pens for 2–3 months, suggesting sheep were sensitized to the larval antigen either from low dose pasture contamination or cross reaction with pasture-related antigens. The results of these studies confirm the protective properties of the larval surface antigen and its protective effect when vaccinations are performed in the field.