Vaccine could prevent traveller's diarrhea

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Updated Fri. Apr. 24 2009 4:35 PM ET News Staff

An Ontario research group has teamed up with the U.S. Navy to come up with a vaccine that could prevent a common and unpleasant affliction for tourists.

A team from the University of Guelph announced on Tuesday they have come up with a sugar-based vaccination that may prevent "traveller's diarrhea," also known as TD.

TD is caused by the campylobacter jejuni bacteria and is usually caught by eating uncooked food, especially chicken and beef, or by drinking water contaminated by feces.

"Usually 50 people out of 100,000 obtain food poisoning from campylobacter on a regular basis, especially in developing countries," said Mario Monteiro, a researcher at the University of Guelph, to CTV Southwestern Ontario.

Monteiro has researched a vaccine for the bacteria for almost two decades and his work is partly inspired by personal experience. Four years ago, Monteiro contracted TD on a trip to Mexico.

In an email to, Monteiro said he chose to create a vaccine for C. jejuni because "it is a major source of food poisoning in the developing world and the U.S. military... the recent appearance of antibiotic resistant bacterial strains has now created a need for this type of research."

He added he was approached by the U.S. Navy to collaborate on the vaccine because of his experience of working with vaccines.

American tests of the vaccine on monkeys showed a 100 per cent success rate, meaning no monkeys fell ill. While this research clears the way for human trials, the vaccine is about 10 years away from public use.

In the email, Monteiro explained that the vaccine works by increasing the amount of antibodies that attack the bacteria by targeting the sugar it produces.

While C. jejuni is commonly acquired by tourists in tropical countries such as Mexico or Thailand, it can also strike closer to home. In 2008, the bacteria caused more than 200 cases of food poisoning at a B.C. bike race.

The FDA reports that C. jejuni is the largest cause of food poisoning in the U.S., more then salmonella and shigella (the cause of dysentery) combined. It reports that C. jejuni causes two to four million infections a year in the U.S. alone. It also plays a role in triggering Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disease where the body attacks its nervous system.

Monteiro thinks that the vaccine would indirectly prevent that syndrome.

While there is currently no vaccine for TD, there are several treatments for it. Over the counter medications such as Pepto-Bismol and Imodium both lessen its effects. But the U.S.-based Center for Disease Control reports that TD doesn't last very long, with most cases over in a couple days, even without treatment.

TD isn't the only ailment that Monteiro is interested in fighting. He's also working on a vaccine for C. difficile, the diarrhea-causing bacterium that's killed over 2,000 people in Quebec since 2003.

With a report from CTV Southwestern Ontario


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