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Prevalence and molecular characterization of Clostridium difficile isolated from European Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) during migration

Petra Bandelj1, Tomi Trilar2, Rok Blagus3, Matjaz Ocepek1, Joyce Rousseau4, J Scott Weese4 and Modest Vengust1*

Author Affiliations

1 Veterinary faculty, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana SI-1115, Slovenia

2 Slovenian Museum of Natural History, Ljubljana SI-1000, Slovenia

3 Institute for Biostatistics and Medical Informatics, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana SI-1104, Slovenia

4 Department of Pathobiology, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario N1G 2W1, Canada

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BMC Veterinary Research 2014, 10:40  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-10-40

Published: 8 February 2014



Clostridium difficile is an important bacterial pathogen of humans and a variety of animal species. Birds, especially migratory passerine species, can play a role in the spread of many pathogens, including Clostridium difficile. Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) nest in close proximity to human habitats and their biology is closely associated with cattle farming. Therefore, we hypothesized that Barn Swallows can be the reservoir of Clostridium difficile.


Barn Swallows (n = 175) were captured on their autumn migration across Europe to sub-Saharan Africa. Droppings were collected from juvenile (n = 152) and adult birds (n = 23). Overall prevalence of Clostridium difficile was 4% (7/175); 4.6% (7/152) in juvenile birds and 0/23 in adults. Clostridium difficile ribotypes 078, 002 and 014 were identified, which are commonly found in farm animals and humans. Three new Clostridium difficile ribotypes were also identified: SB3, SB159 and SB166, one of which was toxigenic, harbouring genes for toxins A and B.


Results of this study indicate that Barn Swallows might play a role in national and international dissemination of Clostridium difficile and could serve as a source for human and animal infection. Clostridium difficile ribotype 078 was identified, which has been reported as an emerging cause of community-associated Clostridium difficile infection in humans. Based on this and other studies, however, it is more likely that Barn Swallows have a more indicative than perpetuating role in Clostridium difficile epidemiology.

Clostridium difficile infection; Zoonosis; Migrating passerines; Birds; Cattle farming