Abstracts: Monitoring chicken flock behaviour provides early warning of infection by human pathogen Campylobacter

Campylobacter is the commonest bacterial cause of gastrointestinal infection in humans, and chicken meat is the major source of infection throughout the world. Strict and expensive on-farm biosecurity measures have been largely unsuccessful in controlling infection and are hampered by the time needed to analyse faecal samples, with the result that Campylobacter status is often known only after a flock has been processed.

Our data demonstrate an alternative approach that monitors the behaviour of live chickens with cameras and analyses the ‘optical flow’ patterns made by flock movements. Campylobacter-free chicken flocks have higher mean and lower kurtosis of optical flow than those testing positive for Campylobacter by microbiological methods.

We show that by monitoring behaviour in this way, flocks likely to become positive can be identified within the first 7-10 days of life, much earlier than conventional on-farm microbiological methods. This early warning has the potential to lead to a more targeted approach to Campylobacter control and also provides new insights into possible sources of infection that could transform the control of this globally important food-borne pathogen.

The study is from the Department of Zoology, Department of Engineering Science, and Department of Statistics, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.

Colles FM, Cain RJ, Nickson T, et al. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 2016; 283 (1822): 20152323; doi: 10.1098/rspb.2015.2323

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