Background 5 commentsupdate:Jun 14, 2010

Spondylitis is emerging in broilers

In World Poultry Vol. 23 No. 12, 2007, we described spondylitis caused by the bacterium Enterococcus cecorum as a newly emerging disease in broiler breeders in the US. Until recently the disease was only a problem in male broiler breeders, but now we are also seeing it in flocks of broiler chickens, with many birds in the flock described as having “leg problems”.

By Dr. Tahseen Aziz, Rollins Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, Raleigh, NC, US, and Dr. H. John Barnes, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, US.

In broiler flocks the problem begins between 30 and 40 days of age, often with a high morbidity rate resulting in culling of many birds in the flock. Almost all of the affected birds are males. Selective loss of males from the flock results in lowered average carcass weights at processing, and increased feed conversion rates.

Birds presented to the Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory showed clinical signs of leg paralysis. Typically, they were in ventral recumbency with their legs extended forward and spread laterally, and their feet slightly raised off the ground. Other birds were in ventral recumbency with their legs extended backward or severely spread to the sides.

Longitudinal section of the vertebral column of this 58-day-old broiler chicken shows the cavity in the body of deformed thoracicvertebrae (arrow) filled with necrotic debris and inflammatory exudate that compresses the spinal cord (SC).

Necropsy examination of affected birds revealed a large, firm swelling in the ventral surface of the spine at the level of the articulating thoracic vertebra. Longitudinal section through the vertebral column revealed a cavity filled with necrotic debris in the body of the affected vertebrae. Due to the damage, the vertebra became deformed and compressed the spinal cord, and this was the cause of the leg weakness and paralysis.

Here, 44- and 58-day-old broiler chickens show “leg weakness” due to spondylitis and subsequent spinal cord damage. The birds are in ventral recumbency with their legs extended, forward, backward, or laterally. In the top figure, the bird’s feet are slightly raised off the ground.
Here is a histologic section of the articulating thoracic vertebra of a 47-day-old broiler chicken. A space in the body of the articulating thoracic vertebra is filled with necrotic debrisand inflammatory exudate. The vertebra is deformed and there is marked compression of the spinal cord (SC) caused by the lesion. Numerous bacterial colonies are located within the lesion but they are not visible at this magnification.



Natalie Berkhout


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    Dr A Y Rajendra

    Its a very interesting topic and also a burning topic in India. Even though people don't give much weightage to this problem as they cull the birds by 36 to 42 days. When we watch broiler flocks in the age group of 32 to 36 days weighing between 1.6 to 2 kgs, almost 3 to 5 percent of the birds show lameness. This lameness can be attributed to various factors like foot pad burns due to poor litter management, swollen hock joints( due to staphylococal infection), faster weight gain, over crowding etc.
    I feel we should do more indepth studies on this subject.

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    Rafael Monleon

    Great article. Seen in in the past when i was studying with Dr. Barnes at NC State, and seeing it right now in Asia, in both broilers and breeders. Generally with some sort of management component or health (e.g. Coccidiosis) associated. There is still a lot of work to be done to understand completely the condition, but the basis are already there. Provide good gut health, adequate ventilation, and good cleaning and disinfection plus downtime in the houses

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    John R. Blakely

    This most often seems to follow a challenge due to coccidiosis or something that damages the intestine. Is this true in broilers also?

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    Hendrik van der Linde

    We had the same problem, but since we started using EM (Efective Micro-organisms) in the drinking water, the problem disappeared. I only realized it when I saw the photograph in the article.

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    Thobane Morake

    I have a similar problem and veterinary officers associated it to broilers' heavy weight but i doubted until i searched on the net and came across this article. I have 100 birds already paralyzed. What can i give to my flock to prevent new infections and the ppropriate treatment the already affected ones? I am based in Botswana,Selebi Phikwe.

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