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Keywords:

  • Campylobacter;
  • free-range;
  • domestic chicken;
  • genotyping;
  • PFGE

Summary

Campylobacteriosis is the most commonly notified illness in New Zealand. Whilst the importance of commercial poultry in campylobacteriosis is well established, little is known about the possible role of chickens kept at home as a direct animal/faecal contact or consumption exposure pathway. The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence and genetic diversity of Campylobacter spp. in domestic backyard chicken flocks in the Canterbury region of New Zealand. Poultry faecal samples were collected from 35 domestic ‘backyard’ poultry flocks from urban and rural properties around the Canterbury Region of New Zealand. A total of 291 samples were collected and tested for the presence of thermotolerant Campylobacter spp. and positive isolates were analysed using pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) using both SmaI and KpnI enzymes. There was a high prevalence of Campylobacter spp. with 86% of flocks testing positive. Campylobacter jejuni alone, Campylobacter coli alone and both C. jejuni and C. coli were detected in 20 (57%), 2 (6%) and 8 (23%) of the flocks respectively. SmaI/KpnI PFGE analysis identified 50 different genotypes across the 35 flocks. Genotype diversity richness was highest on the lifestyle block and farm properties with 43 different genotypes isolated, whilst urban properties displayed the least richness with 12 genotypes isolated. Rural flocks tended to have more different genotypes in a given flock than urban flocks. Comparison of the genotypes with the PulseNet Aotearoa Campylobacter database showed that 28 of the genotypes had previously been isolated from human cases of campylobacteriosis. Many of these were also indistinguishable from Campylobacter spp. previously isolated from retail chicken. Therefore, contact with backyard poultry or their faecal material is a potential additional infection pathway outside of exposure to the established pathways associated with the consumption of Campylobacter-contaminated commercial meat or foods cross-contaminated from contaminated poultry.