Footrot, caused by the strictly anaerobic bacterium Dichelobacter nodosus, is the most common cause of lameness in sheep in Great Britain but problems exist in association with its diagnosis and control. The fastidious nature of D. nodosus means that complex media and several weeks are required for characterisation. An alternative method to simplify and enhance the detection of D. nodosus in clinical samples is therefore highly desirable. In terms of control, anecdotal evidence from the farming community suggests that the commercially available vaccine, based on Australian isolates of D. nodosus, is not widely employed in this country due to its perceived inefficacy. Seven hundred and six isolates, collected from outbreaks in England and Wales, were therefore used to investigate these issues. A 16S rRNA PCR was adapted to detect D. nodosus in clinical material within 1 day of sampling; a 15% increase in detection compared with culture and less than 1% false negatives were achieved. This represents a major advance in the rapid diagnosis of footrot and will be of great value to practitioners and diagnostic laboratories. Bacterial virulence was tested using protease thermostability and zymogram assays, whilst serogrouping was performed by slide agglutination. All isolates demonstrated virulence patterns previously recorded in Australia and all nine serogroups of D. nodosus (A-I) were represented. Serogroup H was predominant. There was, therefore, no evidence for the presence of novel strains of D. nodosus compared with Australia suggesting the need for further investigation into farmers' views on the use of the commercial vaccine in Great Britain.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This study was funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (project number AW1007). The authors would like to thank Dr. O. Dhungyel (Department of Veterinary Clinical Studies, University of Sydney) and Dr. M. Palmer (Footrot Reference Laboratory, Albany, Western Australia) for their advice regarding culture techniques, serogrouping and virulence testing. The authors would also like to thank the farmers for their contribution towards this project.
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