Combined Campylobacter jejuni and Campylobacter coli rapid testing and molecular epidemiology in conventional broiler flocks.
Campylobacter spp. are important causes of bacterial zoonosis, most often transmitted by contaminated poultry meat. From an epidemiological and risk assessment perspective, further knowledge should be obtained on Campylobacter prevalence and genotype distribution in primary production. Consequently, 15 Austrian broiler flocks were surveyed in summer for their thermophilic Campylobacter spp. contamination status. Chicken droppings, dust and drinking water samples were collected from each flock at three separate sampling periods. Isolates were confirmed by PCR and subtyped. We also compared three alternative methods (culture-based enrichment in Bolton broth, culture-independent real-time PCR and a lateral-flow test) for their applicability in chicken droppings. Twelve flocks were found to be positive for thermophilic Campylobacter spp. during the entire sampling period. Seven flocks (46.6%) were contaminated with both, C. jejuni and C. coli, five flocks harboured solely one species. We observed to a majority flock-specific C. jejuni and C. coli genotypes, which dominated the respective flock. Flocks within a distance <2 km shared the same C. jejuni genotypes indicating a cross-contamination event via the environment or personnel vectors. Multilocus sequence typing (MLST) of C. jejuni revealed that the majority of isolates were assigned to globally distributed clonal complexes or had a strong link to the human interface (CC ST-446 and ST4373). The combination of techniques poses an advantage over risk assessment studies based on cultures alone, as, in the case of Campylobacter, occurrence of a high variety of genotypes might be present among a broiler flock. We suggest applying the lateral-flow test under field conditions to identify 'high-shedding' broiler flocks at the farm level. Consequently, poultry farmers and veterinarians could improve hygiene measurements and direct sanitation activities, especially during the thinning period. Ultimately, real-time PCR could be applied to quantify Campylobacter spp. directly from chicken droppings and avoid non-interpretable results achieved by culture-dependent methods.