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J Food Prot. 2012 Oct;75(10):1896-902. doi: 10.4315/0362-028.JFP-11-322.

Evidence for horizontal and vertical transmission in Campylobacter passage from hen to her progeny.

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  • 1U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Russell Research Center, 950 College Station Road, Athens, Georgia 30605, USA.


Campylobacter is an important human pathogen, and consumption of undercooked poultry has been linked to significant human illnesses. To reduce human illness, intervention strategies targeting Campylobacter reduction in poultry are in development. For more than a decade, there has been an ongoing national and international controversy about whether Campylobacter can pass from one generation of poultry to the next via the fertile egg. We recognize that there are numerous sources of Campylobacter entry into flocks of commercial poultry (including egg transmission), yet the environment is often cited as the only source. There has been an abundance of published research globally that refutes this contention, and this article lists and discusses many of them, along with other studies that support environment as the sole or primary source. One must remember that egg passage can mean more than vertical, transovarian transmission. Fecal bacteria, including Campylobacter, can contaminate the shell, shell membranes, and albumen of freshly laid fertile eggs. This contamination is drawn through the shell by temperature differential, aided by the presence of moisture (the "sweating" of the egg); then, when the chick emerges from the egg, it can ingest bacteria such as Campylobacter, become colonized, and spread this contamination to flock mates in the grow house. Improvements in cultural laboratory methods continue to advance our knowledge of the ecology of Campylobacter, and in the not-so-distant future, egg passage will not be a subject continuously debated but will be embraced, thus allowing the development and implementation of more effective intervention strategies.

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