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Escherichia coli is a bacterium that naturally inhabits the intestines of poultry and is widely spread on the skin and feathers. In fact, throughout the poultry house environment: feces, litter, dust, feedd, water, mites, insects…
It is an old acquaintance, present throughout the history of Brazilian poultry industry — and worldwide! According to Disease of Poultry (2020), 10 to 15% of intestinal coliforms in normal chickens may belong to potentially pathogenic serotypes. What has changed for some time now is the selection of avian pathogenic E. coli strains. APECs (Avian Pathogenic E. coli) are associated with colibacillosis and have been a major problem for broiler production.
The disease is economically devastating. It can affect chickens of all ages, although young animals are the most affected, and impacts:
- In the increase of mortality and morbidity;
- In reduced weight gain;
- In increase of feed conversion;
- In the absence of flock uniformity;
- The increase in costs with medications;
- In the increase of condemnation in the slaughterhouse.
Among the main lesions clinically observed in the field are omphalitis, aerosacculitis, salpingitis, peritonitis, pericarditis and cellulitis.
In today’s article, prepared in partnership with the Technical and Commercial Director of Biocamp, Paulo Martins, and with the Business Manager of Biocamp, Bauer Alvarenga, we talk more about this disease that has taken on the leading role of avian diseases — and how it is possible prevent it. Maintaining the balance of the intestinal microbiota (eubiosis) and reinforcing biosecurity and animal welfare measures are essential.
APEC reaches all links in the poultry production chain
Colibacillosis is pointed out as the main cause of losses in Brazilian poultry industry, nowadays, because of the high initial mortality of chicks and subsequent condemnation in the slaughterhouse. As the pathogenic form of the Escherichia coli bacteria is a secondary agent, researchers and professors are looking for explanations as to why this challenge is so high today.
Because it is considered an opportunistic pathogen, among the possible primary causes of the problem are some respiratory or immunosuppressive viruses, reckless use of antibiotics, genetic factors, stress and management and environmental conditions – which can also contribute to the occurrence of the disease. The fact is that APEC continues to cause damage to all links in the poultry production chain.
We are considering from great-grandparents, grandparents and breeders to commercial chickens that arrive at the slaughterhouse to be processed and marketed.
Although younger chickens are more susceptible, the disease affects both broilers and breeders at any stage of life. Even the problem can be closely linked to the stages prior to the birth of the chick, such as the hatchery and/or breeding farms.
That’s because there are two types of transmission: vertical and horizontal. When it occurs vertically, there is early chick mortality. When there is mortality after 30 days of life and/or condemnation in the slaughterhouse, transmission is likely to have occurred horizontally. That is, between chickens in the same poultry house, between houses, between regions, etc.
The 6 main entry routes for APEC in poultry
The main route of contamination — or entry point — is the respiratory route. But not the only one:
E. coli does not cause enteric diseases in chickens, but, when eliminated in the faeces, they remain viable for a long time in the poultry house litter, which, in times of lower air humidity, is usually very dry, with a lot of dust. The dust suspends the bacteria, which is inhaled by chickens and can initiate a respiratory or systemic illness.
Control of colibacillosis
The way to control colibacillosis is by prevention. By improving the biosecurity, sanitation, air quality (ambience), nutrition, immunity and quality of the day-old chick, it is possible to reduce the level of exposure to pathogenic E. coli (APECs).
One of the main alternatives to act in the balance and modulation of the chicken’s intestinal microbiota (eubiosis) is the use of probiotics. They stimulate the growth and action of beneficial bacteria that compete with APECs. In addition, they stimulate the immune system.
Which type of probiotic to use – and when to start
As the intestine of chickens is colonized by hundreds of species of bacteria, it is necessary that the probiotic used can promote the colonization of all intestinal segments. In each part of the organ, there is a predominance of different species. For this reason, the most indicated probiotics are those composed of multiple strains, selected for their ability to adhere to the intestinal mucosa and inhibit pathogenic bacteria.
The ideal time to start colonization is from the first day of the chick’s life. When we do early colonization with probiotics composed of lactic acid bacteria, we accelerate the growth and fixation of the intestinal microbiota. This will be beneficial to the chickens as they will be more resistant to the pathogenic bacteria that are usually present in the feed, water, litter, and environment.
To control the problem and promote immunity in broiler breeders, an alternative is the use of autogenous vaccines. Biocamp develops and manufactures autogenous vaccines with a rigorous process of isolating the agent that is infecting the chickens, in addition to verifying the pathogenicity of E. coli in the development of the disease.
Constant assessment of the health status of flocks is also essential to prevent the proliferation of APECs. If necessary, it is important to review vaccination programs for broiler breeders and broilers, review nutritional programs, eliminate, or reduce as much as possible the factors that cause stress, favor dysbiosis and the loss of immunity in chickens.
If you are facing the problem and no longer want to be a target of colibacillosis, talk to Biocamp!