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Colonic Spirochetosis in Animals and Humans

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Colonic spirochetosis is a disease caused by the gram-negative bacteria Brachyspira aalborgi and Brachyspira pilosicoli. B. pilosicoli induces disease in both humans and animals, whereas B. aalborgi affects only humans and higher primates. Symptoms in humans include diarrhea, rectal bleeding, and abdominal cramps. Colonic spirochetosis is common in third world countries; however, in developed countries, the disease is observed mainly in homosexual males. Terminally ill patients infected with Brachyspira are particularly at risk for developing spirochetemia. Diarrhea, poor growth performance, and decreased feed-to-gain efficiency is seen in pigs with colonic spirochetosis. The disease in chickens is characterized by delayed and/or reduced egg production, diarrhea, poor feed conversion, and retarded growth. Thus, colonic spirochetosis can represent a serious economic loss in the swine and poultry industries. The organisms are transmitted by the fecal-oral route, and several studies have demonstrated that human, primate, pig, dog, or bird strains of B. pilosicoli can be transmitted to pigs, chickens, and mice. B. pilosicoli may be a zoonotic pathogen, and although it has not been demonstrated, there is a possibility that both B. pilosicoli and B. aalborgi can be transferred to humans via contact with the feces of infected animals, meat from infected animals, or food contaminated by food handlers. Neither B. pilosicoli nor B. aalborgi has been well characterized in terms of basic cellular functions, pathogenicity, or genetics. Studies are needed to more thoroughly understand these Brachyspira species and their disease mechanisms.

Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: Microbial Food Safety Research Unit, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Eastern Regional Research Center, 600 East Mermaid Lane, Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania 19038, USA

Publication date: July 1, 2005

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