In Denmark, increased problems associated with streptococci and enterococci have been observed in broilers and broiler parent flocks, resulting in increased mortalities, uneven flocks, and subsequent downgrading and increased condemnations. Postmortem lesions associated with recent outbreaks due to Enterococcus hirae have been accompanied or dominated by septicemia and endocarditis. As a result of infection at an early age and relatively low mortality rates, outbreaks are not always clearly defined and may go unnoticed or may be attributed to poor chick quality. For the same reasons, the pathogenesis and epidemiology of observed outbreaks has only remained speculative. Four separate outbreaks associated with E. hirae infections in broiler flocks occurring between 1998 and 2002 have been investigated. Two of the outbreaks indicated evidence of two separate clones, with 89% and 79% of isolates involved in the individual outbreaks belonging to a single pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) profile, respectively. Another outbreak (outbreak 4) demonstrated clear clonality, with all isolates demonstrating affinity to one of two PFGE profiles that differed by only two bands. However, all three outbreaks demonstrated a different clone. The remaining outbreak was nonclonal, with isolates distributed between six separate PFGE profiles. One of the outbreaks (outbreak 4) was descended from a parent broiler flock previously associated with an outbreak of Streptococcus gallinaceus; the flock also exhibited septicemia and endocarditis. Initial indications suggested the possibility of vertical transmission of S. gallinaceus to the current broiler flock, causing infection. By extended phenotypic characterization and subsequent genetic characterization, including 16S rRNA sequencing, all strains from the four outbreaks were confirmed as E. hirae. This investigation highlights the problems associated with characterizing enterococci infections in broiler flocks.
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Vol. 49 • No. 1