Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae is a bacterium that infects pigs—usually on crowded, inhumane factory farms, where infectious diseases such as swine flu spread like wildfire. Erysipelas causes fever, chronic arthritis, heart inflammation, painful skin lesions, and often death. Up until a few weeks ago, most of us at PETA had never heard of erysipelas either.
There is a vaccine for erysipelas, but each batch produced was tested by infecting pigs with the disease. The test caused the animals immense suffering, which was often followed by death. Enter PETA’s scientists, whose heads are no doubt getting a little big right now, what with two big victories in one week.
In August, PETA’s Regulatory Testing Division wrote to the USDA asking the agency to follow Europe’s example and adopt a non-animal in vitro test for the erysipelas vaccine. We pointed out that the in vitro ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay—try saying that three times fast) test is more humane and is also much more reliable than simply administering the vaccine and seeing whether or not the pigs die. It also helps to ensure vaccine consistency.
Last week, we received a response from the USDA announcing that the test involving the use of pigs will no longer be used. The icing on the cake is that the USDA also said that it is moving away from a hideously cruel method that uses mice to produce antibodies and will instead use a cell culture–based system that is humane and reliable.
Not ones to rest on our laurels, we at PETA are also working to replace animal tests with in vitro tests for tetanus, hepatitis B, whooping cough, clostridium, and leptospirosis vaccines. Already, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer is on board when it comes to ending the use of hamsters in the manufacture of leptospirosis vaccines—a decision that will save the lives of about 40,000 hamsters a year. Hopefully, we’ll be able to report back with another victory soon.
Written by Alisa Mullins