Avian pathogenic Escherichia coli (APEC)

Vet Res. Mar-Jun 1999;30(2-3):299-316.


Avian pathogenic Escherichia coli (APEC) cause aerosacculitis, polyserositis, septicemia and other mainly extraintestinal diseases in chickens, turkeys and other avian species. APEC are found in the intestinal microflora of healthy birds and most of the diseases associated with them are secondary to environmental and host predisposing factors. APEC isolates commonly belong to certain serogroups, O1, O2 and O78, and to a restricted number of clones. Several experimental models have been developed, permitting a more reliable evaluation of the pathogenicity of E. coli for chickens and turkeys. Hence, virulence factors identified on APEC are adhesins such as the F1 and P fimbriae, and curli, the aerobactin iron sequestering system, K1 capsule, temperature-sensitive hemagglutinin (Tsh), resistance to the bactericidal effects of serum and cytotoxic effects. Experimental infection studies have shown that the air-exchange regions of the lung and the airsacs are important sites of entry of E. coli into the bloodstream of birds during the initial stages of infection and that resistance to phagocytosis may be an important mechanism in the development of the disease. They have also demonstrated that F1 fimbriae are expressed in the respiratory tract, whereas P fimbriae are expressed in the internal organs of infected chickens. The role of these fimbrial adhesins in the development of disease is not yet, however, fully understood. The more recent use of genetic approaches for the identification of new virulence factors will greatly enhance our knowledge of APEC pathogenic mechanisms. Diagnosis of APEC infections is based on the clinical picture, lesions and isolation of E. coli. This may be strengthened by serotyping and identification of virulence factors using immunological or molecular methods such as DNA probes and PCR. Approaches for the prevention and control of APEC infections include the control of environmental contamination and environmental parameters such as humidity and ventilation. Antibiotherapy is widely used, although APEC are frequently resistant to a wide range of antibiotics. Vaccines containing killed or attenuated virulent bacteria protect against infection with the homologous strain but are less efficient against heterologous strains. Hence, vaccination for colibacillosis is not widely practised because of the large variety of serogroups involved in field outbreaks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adhesins, Escherichia coli / biosynthesis
  • Animals
  • Bird Diseases / diagnosis
  • Bird Diseases / microbiology*
  • Bird Diseases / prevention & control
  • Chickens
  • Escherichia coli / classification
  • Escherichia coli / pathogenicity*
  • Escherichia coli Infections / diagnosis
  • Escherichia coli Infections / microbiology
  • Escherichia coli Infections / prevention & control
  • Escherichia coli Infections / veterinary*
  • Poultry Diseases / diagnosis
  • Poultry Diseases / microbiology*
  • Poultry Diseases / prevention & control
  • Syndrome
  • Turkeys
  • Virulence


  • Adhesins, Escherichia coli