Poultry as a Host for the Zoonotic Pathogen, <em>Campylobacter jejuni</em>

27 February 2012, at 12:00am

According to researchers in Belgium, the number of human campylobacteriosis cases associated with chickens remains high because, although it is known that chickens are the number one risk factor for disease in humans, there are no effective strategies to reduce Campylobacter prevalence in flocks.

Campylobacteriosis is the most reported foodborne gastroenteritic disease and poses a serious health burden in industrialised countries, according to David Hermans of Ghent University and co-authors there and at the Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research in Melle, both in Belgium.

In their paper in Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases, they continue that disease in humans is mainly caused by the zoonotic pathogen, Campylobacter jejuni. Due to its wide-spread occurrence in the environment, the epidemiology of Campylobacter remains poorly understood. It is generally accepted, however, that chickens are a natural host for C. jejuni, and for Campylobacter spp. in general, and that colonised broiler chicks are the primary vector for transmitting this pathogen to humans.

Several potential sources and vectors for transmitting C. jejuni to broiler flocks have been identified. Initially, one or a few broilers can become colonised at any time between two weeks of age and the end of rearing, after which the infection will rapidly spread throughout the entire flock. Such a flock is generally colonised until slaughter and infected birds carry a very high C. jejuni load in their gastrointestinal tract, especially the caeca.

This eventually results in contaminated carcasses during processing, which can transmit this pathogen to humans, say the researchers. Recent genetic typing studies showed that chicken isolates can frequently be linked to human clinical cases of Campylobacter enteritis. However, despite the increasing evidence that the chicken reservoir is the number one risk factor for disease in humans, no effective strategy exists to reduce Campylobacter prevalence in poultry flocks, which can in part be explained by the incomplete understanding of the epidemiology of C. jejuni in broiler flocks.

Hermans and co-authors conclude that the number of human campylobacteriosis cases associated with the chicken vector remains strikingly high.


Hermans D., F. Pasmans, W. Messens, A Martel, F. Van Immerseel, G. Rasschaert, M. Heyndrickx, K. Van Deun and F. Haesebrouck. 2012. Poultry as a host for the zoonotic pathogen Campylobacter jejuni. Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases. 12(2): 89-98. doi:10.1089/vbz.2011.0676.

Further Reading

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February 2012