Campylobacter jejuni is a foodborne pathogen that often leads to human infections through the consumption of contaminated poultry. Wild birds may play a role in the transmission of C. jejuni by acting as reservoir hosts. Despite ample evidence that wild birds harbor C. jejuni, few studies have addressed the role of host ecology in transmission to domestic animals or humans. We tested the hypothesis that host social behavior and habitat play a major role in driving transmission risk. C. jejuni infection and host ecology were studied simultaneously in wild American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) in Davis, CA, over 3 years. We found that 178 of 337 samples tested were culture positive (53%), with infection varying by season and host age. Among adult crows, infection rates were highest during the winter, when migrants return and crows form large communal roosts. Nestlings had the highest risk of infection, and whole-genome sequencing supports the observation of direct transmission between nestlings. We deployed global positioning system (GPS) receivers to quantify habitat use by crows; space use was nonrandom, with crows preferentially occupying some habitats while avoiding others. This behavior drastically amplified the risk of environmental contamination from feces in specific locations. This study demonstrates that social behavior contributes to infection within species and that habitat use leads to a heterogeneous risk of cross-species transmission.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Food Science
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology