Epidemiology and Infection

Serpulina pilosicoli, waterbirds and water: potential sources of infection for humans and other animals

S. L. OXBERRY a1, D. J. TROTT a1 and D. J. HAMPSON a1c1
a1 Division of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, Murdoch University, Murdoch, Western Australia 6150, Australia


Serpulina pilosicoli was isolated from 8 of 43 (19%) faecal specimens obtained from feral waterbirds sampled around a small lake at Perth Zoological Gardens, Western Australia, and from 3 of 7 (43%) samples of the lake water. The organism was only isolated from 1 of 204 (0·5%) samples from captive birds and animals in the zoological collection. Multilocus enzyme electrophoresis analysis of the isolates showed that they were genetically diverse, and none had identical electrophoretic profiles as those previously obtained from human beings, dogs, pigs and other avian species. To determine the survival time of S. pilosicoli in water, cells of strain 1648 were seeded into lake and tap water, and incubated at 4, 25 and 37°C. The organism could be recultured from lake water for up to 66 days at 4°C, and for 4 days at 25°C. A healthy human volunteer who drank water seeded with S. pilosicoli strain Wes B became colonized, and developed abdominal discomfort and headaches. Contamination of water by faeces may represent a source of S. pilosicoli infection for both humans and animals.

(Accepted February 12 1998)

c1 Author for correspondence.