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Scientific experiments with the herpes virus strain that causes Marek's disease in poultry have shown, for the first time, that some types of vaccines allow for the evolution and survival of increasingly virulent versions of a virus that could put unvaccinated individuals at greater risk of severe illness.
While many vaccines – such as common childhood vaccines – work perfectly, others could be improved. These ‘imperfect’ vaccines still prevent the vaccinated host from getting sick but do not prevent the transmission of the virus. In the case of Marek's disease in poultry, this led to the survival of increasingly virulent versions of a virus in the population, putting unvaccinated individuals at greater risk of severe illness. The research has important implications for food-chain security and food-chain economics, as well as for other diseases that affect humans and agricultural animals.
The new research, which was published in the Open Access journal PLOS Biology on July 27, investigates how the use of “leaky” or “imperfect” vaccines can influence the evolution of virulence in viruses. The work was carried out by an international group led by Prof. Andrew Read, the Evan Pugh Professor of Biology and Entomology and Eberly Professor in Biotechnology at Penn State University, and Prof. Venugopal Nair, the Head of the Avian Viral Diseases programme at The Pirbright Institute.
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