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Inhaled anthrax vaccine protects animals

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A powdered anthrax vaccine that people potentially could take by themselves protects rabbits against the deadliest form of the bacteria, researchers say.

Developed jointly by U.S. Army researchers and BD Technologies, the vaccine works about as well as current injected versions, the scientists said on Tuesday.

"Our intranasal powder vaccine discovery may provide a highly effective, more flexible, mobile and easy-to-use method of administering the anthrax vaccine in clinical and field settings," said Vince Sullivan, a chemist with BD Technologies who led the study.

The company, a unit of syringe-maker Becton Dickinson and Company, said tests on people could be possible within two to three years.

Anthrax, normally a disease of livestock and wild animals, is considered a top bioterror threat by U.S. experts. Anthrax spores were used in a series of 2001 letter attacks that killed five people -- a crime that remains unsolved.

Anthrax infection is easily cured with the use of antibiotics, but in cases of the inhaled form, by the time symptoms appear it is often too late to treat the patient.

Conventional anthrax vaccines are injected over a series of months. U.S. defence officials say 1 million service members have been vaccinated, but they are seeking an easier-to-administer vaccine.

BioPort, a privately held company based in Lansing, Michigan, is the main maker of the current anthrax vaccine.

For their study, the researchers created a genetically engineered vaccine based on one main anthrax protein called protective antigen. They powdered it an gave it to rabbits as an aerosol.

They then made the rabbits inhale anthrax spores, which can cause a fatal infection.

Between 83 percent and all the rabbits survived, they told a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia.