Parallel sequencing reveals Campylobacter in commercial meat chickens less than 8 days old.
Colles FM., Hedges SJ., Dixon R., Preston SG., Thornhill P., Barfod KK., Gebhardt-Henrich SG., Créach P., Maiden MCJ., Dawkins MS., Smith AL.
Campylobacter from contaminated poultry meat is a major source of human gastroenteritis worldwide. To date, attempts to control this zoonotic infection with on-farm biosecurity measures have been inconsistent in outcome. A cornerstone of these efforts has been the detection of chicken infection with microbiological culture, where Campylobacter is generally not detectable until birds are at least 21 days old. Using parallel sequence based bacterial 16S profiling analysis and targeted sequencing of the porA gene, Campylobacter was identified at very low levels in all commercial flocks at less than 8 days old that were tested from the UK, Switzerland, and France. These young chicks exhibited a much greater diversity of porA types than older birds testing positive for Campylobacter by culture or qPCR. This suggests that, as the bacteria multiply sufficiently to be detected by culture methods, one or two variants, as indicated by porA type, dominate the infection. The findings that: (i) most young chicks carry some Campylobacter and (ii) not all flocks become Campylobacter positive by culture, suggest that efforts to control infection, and therefore avoid contamination of poultry meat, should concentrate on how to limit Campylobacter to low levels by the prevention of the overgrowth of single strains. Importance: Our results demonstrate the presence of Campylobacter DNA amongst faecal samples from a range of commercially reared meat chicks that are less than 8 days of age, consistent across 3 European countries. The recently developed, sensitive detection method indicates that infection occurs on commercial farms much earlier and more widely than previously thought, which opens-up new opportunities to control Campylobacter contamination at the start of the food-chain, and reduce the unacceptably high levels of human disease.