New Species of Bacteria Common in Foals

A recent addition to a family of bacteria generally associated with human stomach problems could play a part in causing intestinal upset in foals, say Belgian researchers who have found that a disproportionate amount of foals have the bug in their gastrointestinal tracts. In humans, infections with certain Helicobacter species of bacteria are associated with inflammation of the stomach, gastric ulcers, and stomach cancer. Helicobacters are also known to cause severe disease in animals, and the research group is uncovering the impact that these bacteria have on the horse's gut.

According to a study slated for publication, Helicobacter equorum, a recently discovered Helicobacter species in the lower bowel of horses, is present in 67.8% of foals between 1 and 6 months of age. This is remarkably higher than the 0.8-7.9% of adult horses estimated to be infected with the bacterium.

"Since infections with other bacteria from the epsilon-branch of Proteobacteria, such as Campylobacters, are thought to be more common in young mammals, the purpose of our study was to determine the prevalence of H. equorum in foals and to begin to explore the impact of H. equorum infections in these animals," explained lead researcher Hilde Moyaert from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in the Department of Bacteriology at Ghent University in Belgium.

Between June 2006 and November 2007, Moyaert and colleagues collected fecal samples from 66 foals aged 3 days to 6 months and tested the samples for H. equorum using a DNA-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

"In foals less than one month of age, the prevalence of H. equorum was 28.6%," said Moyaert. "This is markedly higher than the reported incidence in adult horses, but still remarkably lower than the 67.8% of 1- to 6-month-old foals positive for H. equorum."

No significant difference in the prevalence of H. equorum in foals with or without diarrhea was noted.

"There is certainly a need for further research to determine the association between H. equorum infection and intestinal disease in this group of horses," Moyaert said.

The study, "Helicobacter equorum is highly prevalent in foals" is scheduled to be published in an upcoming edition of the Journal Veterinary Microbiology.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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