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Broiler immunity develops too little, too late to fight campylobacter

The immune response of broilers does not develop fast enough to enable birds to fight off campylobacter present in the gut, scientists say.

In the first-ever study of functional immunity to campylobacter in chickens, research by the University of Liverpool found that antibodies play a key role in clearing the bacteria from the gut, reports Poultry World.

However, those antibodies fail to develop sufficiently during the lifespan of commercial broilers.

The research, funded by the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, suggests that creating a vaccine that works by prompting an immune response would be ineffective.

Paul Wigley, from the university’s Institute of Infection and Global Health, said the study involved inhibiting the production of white blood cells in broiler chicks before introducing campylobacter when the birds were three weeks old.

Bacteria levels in the gut were monitored for the following nine weeks, with scientists discovering that an antibody-associated drop in bacteria only became apparent after seven weeks.

The results indicate that the immune response only begins to mature at about six weeks — too late for commercial poultry production, Wigley said.

“Vaccines that focus on a cell-mediated immune response, or alternatively some way of speeding up the production of antibodies in broiler chickens, may offer more promising routes to controlling campylobacter.”

Wigley said it was unlikely campylobacter would ever be entirely removed from poultry, but he said it could be reduced the extent that chicken was no more contaminated than other sources of infection, such as red meat, pets or the environment.

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