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Staphylococcus aureus was used as an indicator to study the origin and spread of microbial aerosol in and around chicken houses. Air samples indoor, upwind (10 and 50 m), and downwind (10, 50, 100, 200, and 400 m) of four chicken houses were collected using Andersen-6 stages sampler. The concentrations of S. aureus were determined for every sample site. Isolation of S. aureus from chicken feces was performed according to the standard method. The genetic relationship among the isolates was determined by profiles of PCR-amplified repetitive extragenic palindromic (REP-PCR) elements. The results showed that the concentrations of S. aureus indoor of four chicken houses were higher than those upwind and downwind sites (P < 0.05 or P < 0.01), but there were no significant concentration differences among downwind sites (P > 0.05). The fingerprints and the phylogenetic tree indicated that a part of the S. aureus (55.6%, 10/18) isolates from indoor air had the same REP-PCR fingerprints as feces isolates. Consequently, most isolates (57.1%, 20/35) from downwind 10, 50, 100, 200, even 400 m had the same REP-PCR fingerprints as those from indoor or feces. These data indicated that some isolates from downwind and indoor originated from the chicken feces. However, those isolates from upwind had low similarity (similarity index 0.6-0.87) to those from indoor or feces. Therefore, the isolates upwind were not from the chicken feces or indoor. These results suggest that microbes in chicken feces can be aerosolized and spread indoor and outdoor, especially to downwind of the chicken houses. It should have an important epidemiological and public health significance.
Thus, the use of S. aureus as an indicator to study the origin and spread of airborne pathogens from chicken houses is potentially useful for enhancing public health and understanding the airborne epidemiology of this pathogen. Meanwhile it can provide evidence for studying the spreading model of airborne pathogens.