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Front Microbiol. 2018 Nov 6;9:2616. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2018.02616. eCollection 2018.

Virulent Epidemic Pneumonia in Sheep Caused by the Human Pathogen Acinetobacter baumannii.

Author information

1
Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, United States.
2
Department of Infectious Diseases, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, United States.
3
Quality Operations Laboratory, University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Lahore, Pakistan.

Abstract

The human pathogen Acinetobacter baumannii has emerged as a frequent cause of hospital-acquired infections, but infection of animals has rarely been observed. Here we analyzed an outbreak of epidemic pneumonia killing hundreds of sheep on a farm in Pakistan and identified A. baumannii as the infecting agent. A pure culture of strain AbPK1 isolated from lungs of sick animals was inoculated into healthy sheep, which subsequently developed similar disease symptoms. Bacteria re-isolated from the infected animals were shown to be identical to the inoculum, fulfilling Koch's postulates. Comparison of the AbPK1 genome against 2283 A. baumannii genomes from the NCBI database revealed that AbPK1 carries genes for unusual surface structures, including a unique composition of iron acquisition genes, genes for O-antigen synthesis and sialic acid-specific acetylases of cell-surface carbohydrates that could enable immune evasion. Several of these unusual and otherwise rarely present genes were also identified in genomes of phylogenetically unrelated A. baumannii isolates from combat-wounded US military from Afghanistan indicating a common gene pool in this geographical region. Based on core genome MLST this virulent isolate represents a newly emerging lineage of Global Clone 2, suggesting a human source for this disease outbreak. The observed epidemic, direct transmission from sheep to sheep, which is highly unusual for A. baumannii, has important consequences for human and animal health. First, direct animal-to-animal transmission facilitates fast spread of pathogen and disease in the flock. Second, it may establish a stable ecological niche and subsequent spread in a new host. And third, it constitutes a serious risk of transmission of this hyper-virulent clone from sheep back to humans, which may result in emergence of contagious disease amongst humans.

KEYWORDS:

Acinetobacter baumannii; Koch’s postulates; cgMLST; epidemic pneumonia in sheep; genome comparison; immune evasion; iron acquisition

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