In recent years, several studies have described the presence of Clostridium difficile in healthy and diarrhoeic farm and domestic animals. In pigs and cattle, the isolation of some PCR-ribotypes associated with human infection, especially PCR-ribotypes 014 and 078, has led us to hypothesize about the zoonotic transmission of C. difficile infections. If these animals are reservoirs of C. difficile, farmers in close contact with their animals are particularly at risk of acquiring and spreading the bacterium. This study investigates the presence of C. difficile in closely associated populations, beef cattle and farmers, as well as in the animal feed, manure and dust in five different farms in Belgium. C. difficile was isolated from calves and cattle with a prevalence varying between 5.5% and 11.3%. Furthermore, all of the isolates were toxigenic. An important age and breed effect was observed in the colonization of C. difficile. For age, there was a higher probability of colonization in calves of less than 6 months in age than in cattle over 11 months of age. For the type of breed a higher prevalence of the bacterium was detected in the Limousin breed than in the Belgian Bleu breed. By contrast, none of the human and animal feed samples tested positive for C. difficile. The results obtained indicate a persistent animal reservoir of C. difficile, but an indirect dissemination to humans, probably via the environment.
Keywords: Animal feed; Beef cattle; Breed effect; C. difficile; Farmers.
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