Open Access Research article

Using sequence data to identify alternative routes and risk of infection: a case-study of campylobacter in Scotland

Paul R Bessell16*, Ovidiu Rotariu2, Giles T Innocent1, Alison Smith-Palmer3, Norval JC Strachan2, Ken J Forbes4, John M Cowden3, Stuart WJ Reid5 and Louise Matthews1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, 464 Bearsden Rd, Glasgow, UK

2 Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences, School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK

3 Health Protection Scotland, National Services Scotland, 4th Floor Meridian Court, 5 Cadogan Street, Glasgow, UK

4 Section of Immunology and Infection, Polwarth Building, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK

5 Royal Veterinary College, University of London, Hawkshead Lane, North Mymms, Hatfield, Hertfordshire, UK

6 The Roslin institute, The University of Edinburgh, Easer Bush, Edinburgh EH25 9RG, UK

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Infectious Diseases 2012, 12:80  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-12-80

Published: 1 April 2012



Genetic typing data are a potentially powerful resource for determining how infection is acquired. In this paper MLST typing was used to distinguish the routes and risks of infection of humans with Campylobacter jejuni from poultry and ruminant sources


C. jejuni samples from animal and environmental sources and from reported human cases confirmed between June 2005 and September 2006 were typed using MLST. The STRUCTURE software was used to assign the specific sequence types of the sporadic human cases to a particular source. We then used mixed case-case logistic regression analysis to compare the risk factors for being infected with C. jejuni from different sources.


A total of 1,599 (46.3%) cases were assigned to poultry, 1,070 (31.0%) to ruminant and 67 (1.9%) to wild bird sources; the remaining 715 (20.7%) did not have a source that could be assigned with a probability of greater than 0.95. Compared to ruminant sources, cases attributed to poultry sources were typically among adults (odds ratio (OR) = 1.497, 95% confidence intervals (CIs) = 1.211, 1.852), not among males (OR = 0.834, 95% CIs = 0.712, 0.977), in areas with population density of greater than 500 people/km2 (OR = 1.213, 95% CIs = 1.030, 1.431), reported in the winter (OR = 1.272, 95% CIs = 1.067, 1.517) and had undertaken recent overseas travel (OR = 1.618, 95% CIs = 1.056, 2.481). The poultry assigned strains had a similar epidemiology to the unassigned strains, with the exception of a significantly higher likelihood of reporting overseas travel in unassigned strains.


Rather than estimate relative risks for acquiring infection, our analyses show that individuals acquire C. jejuni infection from different sources have different associated risk factors. By enhancing our ability to identify at-risk groups and the times at which these groups are likely to be at risk, this work allows public health messages to be targeted more effectively. The rapidly increasing capacity to conduct genetic typing of pathogens makes such traced epidemiological analysis more accessible and has the potential to substantially enhance epidemiological risk factor studies.