Foodborne pathogen Campylobacter jejuni, which results in millions of cases of human foodborne illness annually, had previously not been considered to cause disease in chickens. The bacteria were thought to be part of the normal microbe environment of the birds. New research from the University of Liverpool shows differently.
“Our findings change the way we view the biology of this bacterial infection,” explains Dr. Paul Wigley from the University’s Institute of Infection and Global Health. “It can cause problems in the gut, as it does in humans, but when the chickens walk through the wet excrement left in their bedding it can damage their feet and legs.”
Researchers looked at the impact of the infection in birds from four commercial breeds of broiler chickens.
They found that while levels of the bacteria in the intestines did not differ by breed, immune response and inflammation did, to the extent that one breed showed damage to the gut and developed diarrhea.
“Chickens brought to slaughter age for human consumption, regardless of their breed, had similar levels of bacterial infection, but how they responded to the infection did differ. This suggests that factors such as the general health and welfare of the birds has more impact than breed on whether Campylobacter enters the food chain or not,” states Wigley.
“Now that we know how robust the immune response to Campylobacter is, there is potential for vaccine development and breeding programs that will help tackle the infection and improve the overall health and welfare of chickens.”
The United States produces over eight billion broiler chickens per year and the United Kingdom produces nearly a billion. Campylobacter jejuni is the most frequent cause of foodborne bacterial gastroenteritis in the world and chicken is the most common source of infection.
Source: University of Liverpool, adapted.