Necrotic enteritis (NE) is the number one cause of antibiotic prescriptions for broiler chickens in the UK. Globally the disease costs the poultry industry an estimated $6 billion.
It is a complex, multifactorial disease with many unknown factors that influence its occurrence and the severity of outbreaks. NE is an infectious disease caused by Clostridium perfringens, which is a gram-positive, anaerobic bacterium that can be found in soil, litter, dust and at low levels in the intestine of healthy birds. Clostridium perfringens only causes NE when it transforms from non-toxin producing type to toxin producing type.
Early signs of an NE outbreak are often wet litter and diarrhoea, and an increase in mortality, that may not be significant. However, the depression of growth rate and feed efficiency of birds become noticeable by day 35 due to intestinal damage and the subsequent reduction in digestion and absorption of food. Subclinical infections are more economically damaging due to these factors. Furthermore, increased condemnations at processing due to liver lesions associated with subclinical NE can occur. The severity of clinical signs varies with the age of the birds.
CIEL supported a pen-side broiler testing necrotic enteritis project led by Newcastle University to provide proof of concept that pen-side diagnosis is possible. Funded by BBSRC, the project had two main objectives: the first was to provide data to support early disease detection using imaging of the chicken house; and, secondly, to gather information to assess the feasibility of developing a lateral flow device for the disease (applying similar technology to that of a home pregnancy test). CIEL led on market research and insight to help inform the research and ensure the new technology would meet industry needs.
The knowledge and insight gained from the study paves the way for developing an innovative, rapid, new diagnostic solution for this important poultry disease. Pen-side diagnostics empower farmers and stockpersons to detect disease faster. Early diagnosis and treatment of necrotic enteritis is recognised to reduce the need to prescribe antibiotics and prevent antimicrobial resistance (AMR).