Health monitoring of wildlife populations can greatly benefit from rapid, local, noninvasive molecular assays for pathogen detection. Fecal samples collected from free-living Virunga mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) between August 2002 and February 2003 were tested for Campylobacter spp. DNA using a portable, real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) instrument. A high prevalence of Campylobacter spp. was detected in both individually identified (22/26=85%) and nest-collected samples (68/114=59.6%), with no statistically significant differences among different gorilla sexes or age classes or between tourist-visited versus research gorilla groups. The PCR instrument was able to discriminate two distinct groups of Campylobacter spp. in positive gorilla samples based on the PCR product fluorescent-probe melting profiles. The rare type (6/90 positives, 7%, including three mixed cases) matched DNA sequences of Campylobacter jejuni and was significantly associated with abnormally soft stools. The more common type of positive gorilla samples (87/90 positives, 97%) were normally formed and contained a Campylobacter sp. with DNA matching no published sequences. We speculate that the high prevalence of Campylobacter spp. detected in gorilla fecal samples in this survey mostly reflects previously uncharacterized and nonpathogenic intestinal flora. The real-time PCR assay was more sensitive than bacterial culture with Campylobacter-specific media and commercially available, enzyme immunoassay tests for detecting Campylobacter spp. in human samples.
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Vol. 46 • No. 3