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Prevalence and molecular characterisation of Eimeria species in Ethiopian village chickens

Lisa Luu1, Judy Bettridge12, Robert M Christley1*, Kasech Melese3, Damer Blake4, Tadelle Dessie2, Paul Wigley1, Takele T Desta25, Olivier Hanotte5, Pete Kaiser6, Zelalem G Terfa7, Marisol Collins1 and Stacey E Lynch12

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Infection and Global Health, University of Liverpool, Leahurst Campus, Liverpool CH64 7TE, United Kingdom

2 International Livestock Research Institute, Addis, Ababa, Ethiopia

3 Debre Zeit Agricultural Research Centre, Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, Debre Zeit, Ethiopia

4 Department of Pathology and Pathogen Biology, Royal Veterinary College, North Mymms AL9 7TA, UK

5 Ecology and Evolution, School of Life Sciences, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK

6 The Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Science, University of Edinburgh, Midlothian EH25 9RG, UK

7 Management School, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 7ZH, United Kingdom

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BMC Veterinary Research 2013, 9:208  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-9-208

Published: 15 October 2013



Coccidiosis, caused by species of the apicomplexan parasite Eimeria, is a major disease of chickens. Eimeria species are present world-wide, and are ubiquitous under intensive farming methods. However, prevalence of Eimeria species is not uniform across production systems. In developing countries such as Ethiopia, a high proportion of chicken production occurs on rural smallholdings (i.e. 'village chicken production’) where infectious diseases constrain productivity and surveillance is low. Coccidiosis is reported to be prevalent in these areas. However, a reliance on oocyst morphology to determine the infecting species may impede accurate diagnosis. Here, we used cross-sectional and longitudinal studies to investigate the prevalence of Eimeria oocyst shedding at two rural sites in the Ethiopian highlands.


Faecal samples were collected from 767 randomly selected chickens in May or October 2011. In addition, 110 chickens were sampled in both May and October. Eimeria oocysts were detected microscopically in 427 (56%, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 52-59%) of the 767 faecal samples tested. Moderate clustering of positive birds was detected within households, perhaps suggesting common risk factors or exposure pathways. Seven species of Eimeria were detected by real time PCR in a subset of samples further analysed, with the prevalence of some species varying by region. Co-infections were common; 64% (23/36, 95% CI 46-79%) of positive samples contained more than one Eimeria spp. Despite frequent infection and co-infection overt clinical disease was not reported. Eimeria oocysts were detected significantly more frequently in October (248/384, 65%, 95% CI 60-69%), following the main rainy season, compared to May (179/383, 47%, 95% CI 42-52%, p < 0.001). Eimeria oocyst positivity in May did not significantly affect the likelihood of detecting Eimeria oocyst five months later perhaps suggesting infection with different species or immunologically distinct strains.


Eimeria spp oocysts may be frequently detected in faecal samples from village chickens in Ethiopia. Co-infection with multiple Eimeria spp was common and almost half of Eimeria positive birds had at least one highly pathogenic species detected. Despite this, all sampled birds were free of overt disease. Although there was no evidence of a difference in the prevalence of oocysts in faecal samples between study regions, there was evidence of variation in the prevalence of some species, perhaps suggesting regional differences in exposure to risk factors associated with the birds, their management and/or location-specific environmental and ecological factors.

Eimeria; Coccidiosis; Village chickens; Ethiopia; Molecular characterisation