Lawsonia intracellularis in the feces of wild rodents and stray cats captured around equine farms.
Background: Proliferative enteropathy is a global enteric disease of particular importance in pigs. The causative bacterium, Lawsonia intracellularis, has a wide range of susceptible host species. Recently, L. intracellularis has been recognized as an etiologic agent of an emerging enteric disease in foals called equine proliferative enteropathy (EPE). The presence of L. intracellularis in nonruminant wildlife has raised questions regarding the role of these species in EPE transmission. Results: This study investigated exposure to L. intracellularis in wild rodents and feral cats from eight farms with confirmed EPE. Serum (42) and fecal (40) samples from resident foals and fecal samples (131), intestinal mucosa tissues (14), and mesenteric lymph nodes (14) from wild and feral animals were collected for the evaluation of the farm status and the molecular detection of L. intracellularis following the diagnosis of EPE in index cases. Fresh feces from wild rodents and feral cats were collected from the ground while walking the premises or after trapping the animals using live traps. A total of 3 brown rats, 7 house mice, 1 striped field mouse, 2 grey red-backed voles, and 3 feral cats showed evidence of prior exposure to L. intracellularis. Conclusions: Our data add to increasing evidence demonstrating the potential for L. intracellularis transmission and infection in wild rodents and feral cats and provide possible evidence of interspecies transmission. The exposure of wild rodents and feral cats provides potential evidence for the spillover of L. intracellularis to wildlife species and raises the question of spillback to horses. Additionally, these animals may represent an indicator of environmental exposure or may be actively involved in the transmission of L. intracellularis to foals by acting as potential reservoir/amplifier hosts. This study is the first to demonstrate the magnitude of L. intracellularis shedding in the feces of wild rodents and feral cats and to indicate the significant infection risk that wild rodents and feral cats pose to naïve horses in South Korea.