An oral vaccine is on the way

There's new relief in sight for stomach-bug sufferers: Dukoral, the only oral vaccine for travelers' diarrhea, is now on its way to being approved by the Food & Drug Administration for use in the United States. Originally created in Sweden—where, as in Norway, it has been widely available for about five years—the raspberry-flavored drink, obtainable by prescription, is expected to arrive in the rest of Europe in the second half of 2003. It has already been approved by 13 other countries, including Argentina, Mexico, and Kenya; at press time, Canada was also poised to issue a decision on the vaccine.

Travelers' diarrhea is often caused by ingesting food or water contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, it affects up to 50 percent of visitors to high-risk regions, including some parts of Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Dukoral targets the common enterotoxigenic E. coli bacteria (ETEC). Another positive: the vaccine protects against cholera. "It's a well-kept Scandinavian secret," says Tim Anderson, a spokesperson for PowderJect, the British pharmaceutical company that manufactures Dukoral. "That's probably why they travel around looking so healthy and robust." Other drug companies, such as U.S.-based Antex Biologics, are currently at work on vaccines that fight different bacterial strains.