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The presence of indistinguishable strains of Clostridium difficile in humans, food animals and food, as well as the apparent emergence of the food-animal-associated ribotype 078/toxinotype V as a cause of community-associated C. difficile infection have created concerns about the potential for foodborne infection. While studies have reported C. difficile in calves, studies of cattle closer to the age of harvest are required. Four commercial feedlots in Alberta (Canada) were enrolled for this study. Fecal samples were collected at the time of arrival and after acclimation (< 62, 62-71 or > 71 days on feed). Selective culture for Clostridium difficile was performed, and isolates were characterized by ribotyping and pulsed-field gel electrophoresis. A logistic regression model was built to investigate the effect of exposure to antimicrobial drugs on the presence of C. difficile.
Clostridium difficile was isolated from 18 of 539 animals at the time of feedlot arrival (CI = 2.3-6.1) and from 18 of 335 cattle at mid-feeding period (CI = 2.9-13.1). Overall, there was no significant difference in the prevalence of C. difficile shedding on arrival versus mid-feeding period (P = 0.47). No association between shedding of the bacterium and antimicrobial administration was found (P = 0.33). All the isolates recovered were ribotype 078, a toxinotype V strain with genes encoding toxins A, B and CDT. In addition, all strains were classified as NAP7 by pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and had the characteristic 39 base pairs deletion and upstream truncating mutation on the tcdC gene.
It is apparent that C. difficile is carried in the intestinal tracts of a small percentage of feedlot cattle arriving and later in the feeding period and that ribotype 078/NAP7 is the dominant strain in these animals. Herd management practices associated with C. difficile shedding were not identified, however further studies of the potential role of antimicrobials on C. difficile acquisition and shedding are required.