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Comp Med. 2004 Feb;54(1):93-9.

Outbreak of otitis media caused by Burkholderia gladioli infection in immunocompromised mice.

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Center for Comparative Medicine, University of Virginia, Office of VP for Research and Graduate Studies, PO Box 800392, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA.


An athymic nude mouse with severe head tilt due to otitis media was identified. Within weeks of identification of this first case, immune-deficient mice of various genotypes from the same facility were similarly affected, and cases from other facilities were found within two months. Culture of ear exudate specimens from affected mice yielded bacteria that were initially identified as Burkholderia cepacia, a plant pathogen considered an important opportunistic pathogen in persons with cystic fibrosis or chronic granulomatous disease. Several of these isolates, however, were subsequently identified as B. gladioli on the basis of results of biochemical analysis and a species-specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay. Genotyping analysis revealed clonality among the isolates, indicating a shared strain among affected mice. A 16S rDNA-based PCR assay specific for the genera Burkholderia and Ralstonia, and a selective culture medium were used in efforts to characterize the epidemiology of this outbreak. In addition to culture of specimens from the oropharyngeal cavity of affected mice, samples were obtained from the environment, feces, sipper tubes, drinking water, and soiled bedding from cages of affected individuals. Burkholderia gladioli was most consistently detected in oropharyngeal swab specimens from affected mice. The PCR assay was equivalent to selective culture in identifying mice in the carrier state that did not have clinical signs of infection. However, neither detection method had sufficient sensitivity to reliably identify all carrier mice, causing the organism to persist at low levels unless entire colonies of immune-deficient mice were removed. The organism was highly resistant to antibiotic therapy. The source and epidemiology of this organism remain unknown. This epizootic serves as an important reminder that immunocompromised rodent colonies may harbor important human opportunistic pathogens.

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