Characterization and Epidemiology of Helicobacter Infection in Zoo Animals
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2012

Carmel L. Witte1, MS; Mark D. Schrenzel1, DVM, PhD, DACVP; Justin Bahl2, PhD; Tammy A. Tucker1; Niora Fabian1, MS; Heidi Greger1, DVM; Chrissie Hollis1, DVM; Gary Hsia1, DVM; Erin Siltamaki1, DVM; Bruce A. Rideout1, DVM, PhD, DACVP

1Wildlife Disease Laboratories, Institute for Conservation Research, San Diego Zoo, Escondido, CA, USA; 2State Key Laboratory of Emerging Infectious Diseases, Department of Microbiology, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong SAR, China


Helicobacter species have exceptional genetic and phenotypic adaptability which has rendered them widely successful and allowed for rapid changes in host-bacterium dynamics.1 It is now recognized that helicobacters are a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in humans and numerous animal taxa, producing local lesions (gastrointestinal inflammation, ulceration, and cancer) and systemic disease in some animals and having either no discernible effects or beneficial influences in others.3 Yet, little is known about their ecology on a broad scale, including levels of host switching and factors related to disease expression. In this study, we conducted a cross-sectional fecal survey of 261 individuals and groups of primates and carnivores to determine Helicobacter status and identify phylogenetic strains. PCR and DNA sequencing analyses were performed, and univariate odds ratios were calculated to correlate broad health characteristics with Helicobacter status, presence of multi-infection, and shared genotypes. Eighty-one percent (64/79) of species and 63% (138/220) of all surveyed individuals (70% of primates; 55% of carnivores) were positive for Helicobacter infection with 79 distinct genotypes identified. Presences of multi-infection or infections with shared genotypes were corroborative with host-switching and were associated with mild clinical signs and management characteristics. Epidemiologic analyses provided insight into the dynamics of Helicobacter infections in a zoological setting and were valuable for advancing awareness of anthropogenic effects on infection in animals.2


The authors thank the Ellen Browning Scripps Foundation and Shirley Sikes for funding this study, and the staff of the Wildlife Disease Laboratories, Veterinary Services department, Nutrition department and Mammal departments from the San Diego Zoo for assistance with sample collection and processing.

Literature Cited

1.  Haesebrouck F, Pasmans F, Flahou B, et al. Gastric helicobacters in domestic animals and nonhuman primates and their significance for human health. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2009;22(2):202–223.

2.  Schrenzel MD, Witte CL, Bahl J, et al. Genetic characterization and epidemiology of helicobacters in non-domestic animals. Helicobacter. 2010;15(2):126–142.

3.  Solnick JV, Schauer DB. Emergence of diverse Helicobacter species in the pathogenesis of gastric and enterohepatic diseases. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2001;14(1):59–97.


Speaker Information
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Carmel L. Witte, MS
Wildlife Disease Laboratories
Institute for Conservation Research
San Diego Zoo
Escondido, CA, USA

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