Conservation and Trapping Science

Pathogen in wild Raccoons in the United States
Jul 4, 2022 08:39 ET

Escherichia albertii is an emerging enteric bacterial pathogen causing watery diarrhea, abdominal distension, vomiting and fever in humans. E. albertii has caused many foodborne outbreaks in Japan and was also reported in other countries worldwide. However, the important animal reservoirs of this pathogen are still largely unknown, impeding us to combat this emerging pathogen. Recently, we reported that wild raccoons (Procyon lotor) and broiler chickens are significant reservoirs of E. albertii in Japan and the U.S., respectively. Here, we performed a longitudinal surveillance to monitor prevalence of E. albertii in wild raccoons in the U.S. and conducted comprehensive comparative analyses of the E. albertii of different origins. A total of 289 fecal swab samples were collected from wild raccoons in Tennessee and Kentucky in the U.S. (2018–2020). Approximately 26% (74/289) of the raccoons examined were PCR-positive for E. albertii and eventually 22 E. albertii isolates were obtained. PFGE analysis showed the U.S. raccoon E. albertii were phylogenetically distant even though the corresponding raccoons were captured from a small area. Unlike the high prevalence of multidrug resistance (83%) observed in previous chicken E. albertii survey, antibiotic resistance was rarely observed in all the U.S. raccoon and 22 Japan raccoon strains with only one Japan strain displaying multidrug resistance (2%). Whole genome sequencing of 54 diverse E. albertii strains and subsequent comparative genomics analysis revealed unique clusters that displayed close evolutionary relationships and similar virulence gene profiles among the strains of different origins in terms of geographical locations (e.g., U.S. and Japan) and hosts (raccoon, chicken, swine, and human). Challenge experiment demonstrated raccoon E. albertii strains could successfully colonize in the chicken intestine at 3 and 8 days postinfection. A pilot environmental survey further showed all the four tested water samples from Tennessee river were E. albertii-positive; two different E. albertii strains, isolated from a single water sample, showed close relationships to those of human origin. Together, the findings from this study provide new insights into the ecology, evolution, and pathobiology of E. albertii, and underscore the need to control the emerging E. albertii in a complex ecosystem using One Health approach.