High resolution parallel sequencing reveals multistrain Campylobacter in broiler chicken flocks testing ‘negative’ by conventional culture methods: implications for control of Campylobacter infection
Colles FM., Karasova D., Crhanova M., Preston SG., Smith AL., Dawkins MS., Rychlik I., Gebhardt-Henrich SG.
Contaminated chicken meat is a major source of human Campylobacteriosis and rates of infection remain high, despite efforts to limit the colonisation of broiler (meat) chicken flocks on farms. Using conventional testing methods of culture or qPCR, Campylobacter is typically detected amongst broiler flocks from 3 wk of age, leading to the assumption that infection is introduced horizontally into chicken rearing houses at this time. In this study, we use parallel sequencing of a fragment of the Campylobacter outer membrane protein, encoded by the porA gene, to test for presence of Campylobacter DNA amongst fresh fecal samples collected from broiler flocks aged 23 to 28 d. Campylobacter DNA was detected in all of the 290 samples tested using the porA target, and in 48% of samples using 16S bacterial profiling, irrespective of whether or not Campylobacter could be detected using conventional qPCR thresholds. A single porAf2 variant was predominant among flocks that would be determined to be Campylobacter ‘positive’ by conventional means, but a diverse pattern was seen among flocks that were Campylobacter ‘negative’. The ability to routinely detect low levels of Campylobacter amongst broiler flocks at a much earlier age than would conventionally be identified requires a re-examination of how and when biosecurity measures are best applied for live birds. In addition, it may be useful to investigate why single Campylobacter variants proliferate in some broiler flocks and not others.