Aims: To investigate the occurrence and numbers of thermophilic campylobacters excreted by cattle in dairy herds, and to assess the strain diversity within herds.
Methods and Results: Faecal samples from 15 animals at each of 24 cattle farms were cultured quantitatively for thermophilic campylobacters and 23% of animals and 83% of farms were positive for Campylobacter jejuni . Young animals had a higher prevalence and higher faecal concentration than older animals. Serotyping and pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) of isolates showed that the most common serotypes were 2, 4-complex and 11. Serotype 2 was especially prevalent among calves (68% of the positive calves). In eight of the 20 positive herds, all isolates had the same sero- and PFGE type while, in the other herds, two to five different types were isolated.
Conclusions: Significant differences were found between age groups in relation to the prevalence and numbers of excreted campylobacters, serotype distribution and strain diversity. The relatively few different strains in each herd indicate that transmission between animals is common.
Significance and Impact of the Study: The high prevalence on cattle farms of the human pathogen C. jejuni and the wide distribution of serotype 2, the most common serotype among Danish patients, indicate that cattle might be an important reservoir for human infections. The ability of this serotype to colonize calves in high numbers further indicates that serotype 2 strains may have an advantage over other serotypes.