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Keywords:

  • horse;
  • foal;
  • colitis;
  • diarrhoea;
  • Clostridium difficile;
  • environment;
  • antimicrobial susceptibility;
  • toxin

Summary

Reasons for performing study: Clostridium difficile has been associated with acute colitis in mature horses.

Objectives: To survey C. difficile colonisation of the alimentary tract with age, occurrence of diarrhoea and history of antibiotic therapy; and to study the occurrence and survival of C. difficile in the environment and antimicrobial susceptibility of isolated strains.

Methods: A total of 777 horses of different breeds, age and sex were studied. Further, 598 soil samples and 434 indoor surface samples were examined. Antimicrobial susceptibility of 52 strains was investigated by Etest for 10 antibiotics.

Results: In horses that developed acute colitis during antibiotic treatment, 18 of 43 (42%) were positive to C. difficile culture and 12 of these (28%) were positive in the cytotoxin B test Furthermore, C. difficile was isolated from a small number of diarrhoeic mature horses (4 of 72 [6%]) with no history of antibiotic treatment, but not from 273 healthy mature horses examined or 65 horses with colic An interesting new finding was that, in normal healthy foals age <14 days, C. difficile was isolated from 1/3 of foals (16 of 56 [29%]). All older foals (170) except one were negative. Seven of 16 (44%) nondiarrhoeic foals treated with erythromycin or gentamicin in combination with rifampicin were also excretors of C. difficile.

On studfarms, 14 of 132 (11%) outdoorsoil samples were positive for C. difficile in culture, whereas only 2 of 220 (1%) soil samples from farms with mature horses were positive for C. difficile (P = <0.001). By PCR, it was demonstrated that strains from the environment and healthy foals can serve as a potential reservoir of toxigenic C. difficile. The experimental study conducted here found that C. difficile survived in nature and indoors for at least 4 years in inoculated equine faeces. The susceptibility of 52 strains was investigated for 10 antibiotics and all were susceptible to metronidazole (MIC≤4 mg/l) and vancomycin (MIC≤2 mg/l).

Conclusions: C. difficile is associated with acute colitis in mature horses, following antibiotic treatment. Furthermore, C. difficile was isolated from 1 in 3 normal healthy foals age <14 days.

Potential relevance: Strains from healthy foals and the environment can serve as a potential reservoir of toxigenic C. difficile.