Prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) are highly susceptible to Yersinia pestis and, along with other wild rodents, are significant reservoirs of plague for other wildlife and humans in the western United States. A recombinant raccoon poxvirus, expressing the F1 antigen of Y. pestis, was incorporated into a palatable bait and offered to three groups (n=18, 19, and 20) of black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) for voluntary consumption, either one, two, or three times, at roughly 3-wk intervals. A control group (n=19) received baits containing raccoon poxvirus without the inserted antigen. Mean antibody titers to Y. pestis F1 antigen increased significantly in all groups ingesting the vaccine-laden baits, whereas the control group remained negative. Upon challenge with virulent Y. pestis, immunized groups had higher survival rates (38%) than the unimmunized control group (11%). The mean survival time of groups ingesting vaccine-laden baits either two or three times was significantly higher than that of animals ingesting vaccine-laden baits just one time and of animals in the control group. These results show that oral immunization of prairie dogs against plague provides some protection against challenge at dosages that simulate simultaneous delivery of the plague bacterium by numerous (3–10) flea bites.
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