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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The in vivo efficacy of two administration routes of a phage cocktail to reduce numbers of Campylobacter coli and Campylobacter jejuni in chickens

Carla M Carvalho1, Ben W Gannon2, Deborah E Halfhide2, Silvio B Santos1, Christine M Hayes2, John M Roe2 and Joana Azeredo1*

Author Affiliations

1 IBB - Institute for Biotechnology and Bioengineering, Centre of Biological Engineering, University of Minho, Campus de Gualtar, 4710-057 Braga, Portugal

2 University of Bristol, Department of Clinical Veterinary Science, Langford, North Somerset, BS40 5DU, UK

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BMC Microbiology 2010, 10:232  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-10-232

Published: 1 September 2010

Abstract

Background

Poultry meat is one of the most important sources of human campylobacteriosis, an acute bacterial enteritis which is a major problem worldwide. Campylobacter coli and Campylobacter jejuni are the most common Campylobacter species associated with this disease. These pathogens live in the intestinal tract of most avian species and under commercial conditions they spread rapidly to infect a high proportion of the flock, which makes their treatment and prevention very difficult. Bacteriophages (phages) are naturally occurring predators of bacteria with high specificity and also the capacity to evolve to overcome bacterial resistance. Therefore phage therapy is a promising alternative to antibiotics in animal production. This study tested the efficacy of a phage cocktail composed of three phages for the control of poultry infected with C. coli and C. jejuni. Moreover, it evaluated the effectiveness of two routes of phage administration (by oral gavage and in feed) in order to provide additional information regarding their future use in a poultry unit.

Results

The results indicate that experimental colonisation of chicks was successful and that the birds showed no signs of disease even at the highest dose of Campylobacter administered. The phage cocktail was able to reduce the titre of both C. coli and C. jejuni in faeces by approximately 2 log10 cfu/g when administered by oral gavage and in feed. This reduction persisted throughout the experimental period and neither pathogen regained their former numbers. The reduction in Campylobacter titre was achieved earlier (2 days post-phage administration) when the phage cocktail was incorporated in the birds' feed. Campylobacter strains resistant to phage infection were recovered from phage-treated chickens at a frequency of 13%. These resistant phenotypes did not exhibit a reduced ability to colonize the chicken guts and did not revert to sensitive types.

Conclusions

Our findings provide further evidence of the efficacy of phage therapy for the control of Campylobacter in poultry. The broad host range of the novel phage cocktail enabled it to target both C. jejuni and C. coli strains. Moreover the reduction of Campylobacter by approximately 2 log10cfu/g, as occurred in our study, could lead to a 30-fold reduction in the incidence of campylobacteriosis associated with consumption of chicken meals (according to mathematical models). To our knowledge this is the first report of phage being administered in feed to Campylobacter-infected chicks and our results show that it lead to an earlier and more sustainable reduction of Campylobacter than administration by oral gavage. Therefore the present study is of extreme importance as it has shown that administering phages to poultry via the food could be successful on a commercial scale.