Persistence of cellulitis-associated E. coli DNA fingerprints in successive broiler chicken flocks

Singer RS, Jeffrey JS, Carpenter TE, Cooke CL, Atwill ER, Johnson WO, Hirsh DC
Veterinary Microbiology 75:59-71

Avian cellulitis in broiler chickens is primarily caused by Escherichia coli. Previous research found that the E. coli isolates of cellulitis origin were unique to each ranch, suggesting that these E. coli were endemic within the ranch environment. To test the hypothesis that the E. coli associated with cellulitis are endemic in the litter of the broiler house, we designed a study to determine whether E. coli DNA fingerprints associated with cellulitis persist over successive flocks that are grown in the same house. In addition, we assessed the impact of different cleaning and disinfection strategies on this persistence. Two broiler houses were followed on each of five farms over 3-4 flocks. A total of 353 E. coli isolates from cellulitis lesions were analyzed in this study, and 314 of these isolates (89%) were DNA fingerprinted by PFGE. In each ranch, there were several DNA fingerprint patterns that were present over successive flocks, regardless of the cleaning and disinfection strategy utilized. Isolates persisted as long as 191 days, implying that these E. coli are capable of persisting in the broiler house environment for long periods of time. In addition, these E. coli isolates were associated with cellulitis lesions in successive flocks. Thus, the isolates of E. coli that are associated with cellulitis in broiler chickens appear to be endemic in the litter environment of the broiler house.