Assessing cellulitis pathogenicity of Escherichia coli isolates in broiler chickens assessed by an in vivo inoculation model

Jeffrey JS, Chin RP, Singer RS
Avian Diseases 43:491-496

The purpose of this study was to identify Escherichia coli isolates that could be characterized as cellulitis pathogens. Twelve E. coli isolates from diagnostic cases of cellulitis or mixed infections with various serotypes were compared for ability to produce cellulitis and internal lesions indicative of systemic infection. Ranking of isolates was based on the premise that E. coli isolates that were “cellulitis-type” would cause cellulitis lesions without causing systemic infection. A quantitative scoring system was also used so both the time required for a lesion to develop and lesion severity could be evaluated as determinants of virulence. Escherichia coli isolates were inoculated by subcutaneous injection of a standardized dose in 24 broiler chickens per isolate. Necropsy was performed on four birds per group at 6, 12, 24, 36, 48, and 60 hr postinoculation (PI). Cellulitis lesions were scored on a 0 to 5 scale based on size, migration from the inoculation site, and gross characteristics. Lesions of the pericardium, liver, joint, or body cavity were evaluated. Gross lesion scores of 1 or 2 were evident by 6 hr PI with all isolates. Mortality occurred in 4 of 12 experimental groups. Internal lesions were observed in 3 to 12 birds per group. Escherichia coli was reisolated from all lesions. The four isolates with the highest lesion score and highest lesion points as determined by the quantitative scoring system did not vary. However, the rankings of two other isolates were affected. Four isolates that were below average for mean internal lesion score and above average for mean cellulitis points were characterized as cellulitis-type. Three isolates that were above average for internal lesion score and below average for mean cellulitis points were characterized as systemic-type. The E. coli serotype was not a determining factor for cellulitis-type pathogenicity. Isolates discriminated as cellulitis-type or septicemic-type E. coli in this study are being used to further investigate virulence factors involved in the pathogenesis of cellulitis in broiler chickens.