Differentiating between virulent and avirulent avian Escherichia coli isolates continues to be a problem for poultry diagnostic laboratories and the study of colibacillosis in poultry. The ability of a laboratory to conduct one simple test that correlates with virulence would simplify studies in these areas; however, previous studies have not enabled researchers to establish such a test. In this study, the occurrence of certain phenotypic and genotypic traits purported to contribute to avian E. coli virulence in 20 avian E. coli isolates was correlated with the results of embryo challenge studies. This analysis was undertaken in an effort to determine which trait(s) best identified each avian E. coli isolate as virulent or avirulent. Traits selected were complement resistance, production of colicin V (ColV), motility, type F1 pili expression, presence of the temperature-sensitive hemagglutinin gene (tsh), and presence of the increased serum survival genetic locus (iss). ColV production, complement resistance, and presence of the iss genetic element were the three traits most highly correlated with high embryo lethality. A logistic regression model was used to predict the embryo lethality results on the basis of the most frequent isolate characteristics. Results indicate that ColV, complement resistance, and iss are significant predictor variables for the percentage of embryo lethality resulting from challenge with a specific avian E. coli isolate. However, no single trait has the ability to predict virulent isolates 100% of the time. Such results suggest the possibility that the embryo lethality assay may prove to be the one test needed to determine if an avian E. coli isolate is virulent.
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Vol. 47 • No. 2