Multiple strain infections and high genotypic diversity among Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis field isolates from diseased wild and domestic ruminant species in the eastern Alpine region of Austria.
Johne"s disease, or paratuberculosis, is a chronic fatal ruminant gastroenteritis caused by Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP) whose foodborne zoonotic potential and association with Crohn"s disease are still under debate. The disease is widespread but its epidemiology and epizootiology remains elusive. Wildlife is suspected to play a major role. After a surge in MAP seroprevalence in Austrian cattle, paratuberculosis was declared a notifiable disease in Austria in 2006. At the same time a rise in MAP cases in wild ruminant populations in the Austrian province of Styria was reported. All five autochthonous ruminants were affected. Genetic analysis of isolates, yielded numerous genotypes (>15) and several multiple strain infections (15%) across host species. Identical MIRU-VNTR profiles were identified in different species and sampling locations. On the other hand varying MIRU-VNTR profiles were revealed at the same location and in conspecifics. Our data, taken together with earlier epidemiological studies on MAP and other mycobacteria, raised concerns about the organisms" ecology. Constraints regarding in vitro culture of this highly fastidious organism potentially bias our current understanding of its epidemiology. We suggest that MAP infections could be polyclonal and question the informative value of genotyping a single MAP colony derived from a single specimen for epidemiological analysis of MAP.