Evaluation of Escherichia coli isolates from healthy chickens to determine their potential risk to poultry and human health.PLoS One. 2017; 12(7):e0180599.Plos
Extraintestinal pathogenic Escherichia coli (ExPEC) strains are important pathogens that cause diverse diseases in humans and poultry. Some E. coli isolates from chicken feces contain ExPEC-associated virulence genes, so appear potentially pathogenic; they conceivably could be transmitted to humans through handling and/or consumption of contaminated meat. However, the actual extraintestinal virulence potential of chicken-source fecal E. coli is poorly understood. Here, we assessed whether fecal E. coli isolates from healthy production chickens could cause diseases in a chicken model of avian colibacillosis and three rodent models of ExPEC-associated human infections. From 304 E. coli isolates from chicken fecal samples, 175 E. coli isolates were screened by PCR for virulence genes associated with human-source ExPEC or avian pathogenic E. coli (APEC), an ExPEC subset that causes extraintestinal infections in poultry. Selected isolates genetically identified as ExPEC and non-ExPEC isolates were assessed in vitro for virulence-associated phenotypes, and in vivo for disease-causing ability in animal models of colibacillosis, sepsis, meningitis, and urinary tract infection. Among the study isolates, 13% (40/304) were identified as ExPEC; the majority of these were classified as APEC and uropathogenic E. coli, but none as neonatal meningitis E. coli. Multiple chicken-source fecal ExPEC isolates resembled avian and human clinical ExPEC isolates in causing one or more ExPEC-associated illnesses in experimental animal infection models. Additionally, some isolates that were classified as non-ExPEC were able to cause ExPEC-associated illnesses in animal models, and thus future studies are needed to elucidate their mechanisms of virulence. These findings show that E. coli isolates from chicken feces contain ExPEC-associated genes, exhibit ExPEC-associated in vitro phenotypes, and can cause ExPEC-associated infections in animal models, and thus may pose a health threat to poultry and consumers.