Open Access Research article

Widespread acquisition of antimicrobial resistance among Campylobacter isolates from UK retail poultry and evidence for clonal expansion of resistant lineages

Helen ML Wimalarathna1, Judith F Richardson2, Andy J Lawson2, Richard Elson2, Richard Meldrum3, Christine L Little2, Martin CJ Maiden1, Noel D McCarthy1 and Samuel K Sheppard4*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK

2 Gastrointestinal Bacteria Reference Unit, PHE Colindale, 61 Colindale Avenue, NW9 5EQ, London, UK

3 School of Occupational & Public Health, Ryerson University, 350 Victoria Street, Toronto M5B 2K3, Canada

4 Institute of Life Science, College of Medicine, Swansea University, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK

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BMC Microbiology 2013, 13:160  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-13-160

Published: 15 July 2013



Antimicrobial resistance is increasing among clinical Campylobacter cases and is common among isolates from other sources, specifically retail poultry - a major source of human infection. In this study the antimicrobial susceptibility of isolates from a UK-wide survey of Campylobacter in retail poultry in 2001 and 2004–5 was investigated. The occurrence of phenotypes resistant to tetracycline, quinolones (ciprofloxacin and naladixic acid), erythromycin, chloramphenicol and aminoglycosides was quantified. This was compared with a phylogeny for these isolates based upon Multi Locus Sequence Typing (MLST) to investigate the pattern of antimicrobial resistance acquisition.


Antimicrobial resistance was present in all lineage clusters, but statistical testing showed a non-random distribution. Erythromycin resistance was associated with Campylobacter coli. For all antimicrobials tested, resistant isolates were distributed among relatively distant lineages indicative of widespread acquisition. There was also evidence of clustering of resistance phenotypes within lineages; indicative of local expansion of resistant strains.


These results are consistent with the widespread acquisition of antimicrobial resistance among chicken associated Campylobacter isolates, either through mutation or horizontal gene transfer, and the expansion of these lineages as a proportion of the population. As Campylobacter are not known to multiply outside of the host and long-term carriage in humans is extremely infrequent in industrialized countries, the most likely location for the proliferation of resistant lineages is in farmed chickens.