Pecking away at chicken bacterium

COLUMBUS – An antibiotic-resistant bacterium that produces one of the major food-borne illnesses in humans has two Ohio State researchers looking for answers in the organism’s most common host – chickens.

Chicken bacterium.

Campylobacter jejuni, a bacterium that harmlessly resides in birds, specifically poultry, produces campylobacteriosis, a gastrointestinal illness similar to salmonella and E. coli in humans.

The most effective treatment involves antibiotics known as quinolones, which also are used on poultry farms to keep the animals healthy. In recent years, cases of quinolone-resistant Campylobacter have surfaced, posing a potential threat to humans.

Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center scientists Qijing Zhang and Theresa Morishita are conducting poultry farm-based studies to determine what factors contribute to Campylobacter resistance of quinolone, and develop effective education and management programs that may reduce the resistance.

The three-year project is being funded by a $567,232 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.

Quinolones.

Research has found that quinolones used on poultry farms no longer kill the Campylobacter bacterium, increasing the potential for contaminated chicken and, subsequently, illness in humans.

“Studies have shown the use of quinolones on poultry farms is linked to quinolone resistance in humans infected with Campylobacter,” Zhang said.

“Our goal is to identify management and environmental factors that contribute to the development and persistence of the resistance on farms, and maybe we can reduce or eliminate that resistance.”

Symptoms.

Campylobacter is considered the most common food-borne pathogen in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control estimates more than 2 million people are infected each year with the organism, producing symptoms such as fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea.

The illness can be life threatening to those with compromised immune systems. People most commonly contract campylobacteriosis by drinking contaminated water or milk, mishandling raw chicken or eating undercooked chicken.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates 80 percent of broiler chickens are contaminated with Campylobacter.

What their looking for.

Through their research, Zhang and Morishita hope to determine the rate of quinolone resistance in chickens under different production practices; how long the resistance to the antibiotic lasts after the animals are free of the antibiotic; and how much quinolone can be used in chickens before they develop a resistance to it.

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