INTRODUCTION: The genus Brachyspira contains well-known enteric pathogens of veterinary significance, suggested agents of colonic disease in humans, and one potentially zoonotic agent. There are recent studies showing that Brachyspira are more widespread in the wildlife community than previously thought. There are no records of this genus in wildlife from the southern Atlantic region and Antarctica. Our aim was therefore, to determine whether intestinal spirochaetes of genus Brachyspira colonise marine and coastal birds in this region.
METHOD: Faecal samples were collected from marine and coastal birds in the southern Atlantic region, including sub-Antarctic islands and Antarctica, in 2002, 2009, and 2012, with the aim to isolate and characterise zoonotic agents. In total, 205 samples from 11 bird species were selectively cultured for intestinal spirochaetes of genus Brachyspira. To identify isolates to species level, they were subjected to phenotyping, species-specific polymerase chain reactions, sequencing of partial 16S rRNA, NADH oxidase (nox), and tlyA genes, and phylogenetic analysis. Antimicrobial susceptibility tests were performed.
RESULTS: Fourteen unique strains were obtained from 10 birds of three species: four snowy sheathbills (Chionis albus), three kelp geese (Chloephaga hybrida subsp. malvinarum), and three brown skua (Stercorarius antarcticus subsp. lonnbergi) sampled on the Falkland Islands, Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, South Georgia, South Shetland Islands, and the Antarctic Peninsula. Five Brachyspira strains were closely related to potentially enteropathogenic Brachyspira sp. of chickens: B. intermedia (n=2, from snowy sheathbills), and B. alvinipulli (n=3, from a kelp goose and two snowy sheathbills). Three strains from kelp geese were most similar to the presumed non-pathogenic species 'B. pulli' and B. murdochii, whereas the remaining six strains could not be attributed to currently known species. No isolates related to human strains were found. None of the tested strains showed decreased susceptibility to tiamulin, valnemulin, doxycycline, tylvalosin, lincomycin, or tylosin.
CONCLUSIONS: This is the first report of intestinal spirochaetes from this region. Despite limitations of current diagnostic methods, our results, together with earlier studies, show that Brachyspira spp., including potentially pathogenic strains, occur globally among free-living avian hosts, and that this genus encompasses a higher degree of biodiversity than previously recognised.
2015. Vol. 5