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Foodborne Pathog Dis. 2009 May;6(4):513-8. doi: 10.1089/fpd.2008.0226.

Isolation of Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis from muscle tissue of naturally infected cattle.

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Department of Animal Health, NEIKER-Tecnalia, Derio, Bizkaia, Spain.


Johne's disease or paratuberculosis is a chronic granulomatous inflammation of the small intestine of ruminants caused by Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (MAP). Recent studies suggest an association between MAP and Crohn's disease in humans. MAP can become widely distributed within the tissues of infected animals, and meat may be a possible route of exposure of MAP to humans. In this study, 47 dairy and beef cattle were examined for the occurrence of viable MAP in diaphragm muscle. At the slaughterhouse, gut tissues, diaphragm muscle, blood, and feces of the 47 animals were collected for bacteriological culture, as well as gut samples for histopathological analysis. MAP was detected by bacteriological culture and conventional and real-time IS900 polymerase chain reaction in the diaphragm muscle of six infected cattle at slaughter (13%). The six animals showing evidence of MAP in diaphragm muscle had diffuse lesions and severe granulomatous inflammation in ileocecal lymph nodes, jejunal lymph nodes, ileocecal valve, and ileum. All six had heavy bacterial load in mesenteric lymph nodes, ileocecal valve, ileum, and jejunum, and four showed clinical signs of paratuberculosis. Two animals did not show clinical signs but had viable MAP in intestinal tissues and in diaphragm muscle as well. MAP was found in blood of only one of the six animals showing evidence of MAP in diaphragm muscle and in feces of three of them. In general, there was a positive association between enteric lesion severity, clinical signs of paratuberculosis, heavy bacterial load in intestinal tissues, fecal shedding of MAP, and the presence of disseminated MAP infection in diaphragm muscle. The results of this study demonstrated that MAP can be detected and cultured from muscle of MAP-infected cattle destined for human consumption and suggest a possible risk of exposure of humans to MAP via contaminated meat.

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