NOV 30, 2017 08:19 AM PST

Brachyspira pilosicoli: An Emerging Pathogen?

Brachyspira pilosicoli is a slow growing spirochete that was first isolated from a pig in the United Kingdom in 1980. Spirochetes are long and slender corkscrew-shaped bacteria which enable the bacteria to move by rotating in place.

Brachyspira pilosicoli was first isolated from a pig in the United Kingdom in 1980. The bacteria have since been found to colonize the intestinal tract of humans in some developing countries and have been associated with chronic conditions in immunocompromised individuals. Credit: LA Edwards

Some spirochete species cause human disease including Lyme and syphilis, while others are essential for the proper function of ruminants, such as cows, where they help to break down cellulose and other plant polysaccharides in the rumen. Brachyspira pilosicoli specifically has been associated with colitis, diarrhea, and poor growth rates in pigs and adult chickens.

Despite the high prevalence of Brachyspira pilosicoli colonization in certain human populations, there is a lack of uncertainty regarding the role of Brachyspira pilosicoli as a human pathogen. Identification of the bacterium requires specialized culture techniques as well as molecular-based technology that are only available in a few laboratories that undertake special diagnostic investigations.

The have been relatively few studies investigating the number of Brachyspira pilosicoli infections in humans. In one interesting human experimental study, a volunteer human drank cultures of Brachyspira pilosicoli isolated from an Australian Aboriginal child experiencing diarrhea. Examination of fecal samples revealed that the volunteer became heavily colonized by the bacteria and developed symptoms including abdominal pain, bloating, and headaches. Interestingly, the volunteer did not develop diarrhea and the bacteria could not be isolated from the blood stream. Treatment with oral metronidazole quickly removed the presence of the bacteria from the volunteer’s feces and symptoms ceased.

Brachyspira pilosicoli colonization in humans has been found to be associated with conditions including chronic diarrhea, rectal bleeding, nonspecific abdominal discomfort, and failure to thrive in children. The bacteria have also been isolated from the bloodstream of individuals with other chronic conditions including alcoholism and cancer.

Other studies have identified risk factors for infection in humans including drinking contaminated water, bathing in contaminated water, living in rural or peri-urban villages in developing countries, living in rural Australian Aboriginal communities, recent migration or travel from a developing country, male homosexuality, positive HIV status, contact with animals, and coinfection with Brachyspira aalborgi and/or intestinal protozoa.

Scientists encourage clinicians and microbiologists to consider Brachyspira pilosicoli in their differential diagnosis of human disease. It is also recommended that appropriate use and development of diagnostic protocols be applied for the identification of spirochete species in clinical specimens.

Sources: Clinical Microbiology Reviews, UC Berkley

About the Author
  • I am a postdoctoral researcher with interests in pre-harvest microbial food safety, nonthermal food processing technologies, zoonotic pathogens, and plant-microbe interactions. My current research projects involve the optimization of novel food processing technologies to reduce the number of foodborne pathogens on fresh produce. I am a food geek!
You May Also Like
MAY 09, 2018
Microbiology
MAY 09, 2018
A Giant Ocean Virus has Been Isolated & Characterized
One study estimated that we share the planet with at least 320,000 microorganisms have the potential to infect mammals....
JUN 04, 2018
Microbiology
JUN 04, 2018
Neutralizing Infections with Nanotechnology
Clearing bacterial infections from the body can present challenges. Engineers are trying to use nanorobots for such situations....
JUN 15, 2018
Microbiology
JUN 15, 2018
A Fast-acting Vaccine for Cholera
Worldwide, bacteria that causes fast-spreading cholera kills anywhere from 21,000 to 143,000 people every year....
JUN 27, 2018
Cancer
JUN 27, 2018
Engineered Poliovirus in Clinical Trials for Glioblastoma
Glioblastoma is a very difficult cancer to treat; researchers look to an engineered poliovirus for novel targeted approach for grade IV patients....
AUG 10, 2018
Videos
AUG 10, 2018
Can the Black Death Make a Comeback?
The bacterium that causes plague was never wiped out....
AUG 14, 2018
Microbiology
AUG 14, 2018
How Ebola Gets Into Cells
Researchers have learned how Ebola gains entry to cells, which can help us stop it....
Loading Comments...