Prevalence of Coxiella burnetii infections in aborted fetuses and stillborn calves

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Coxiella burnetii infections are mostly subclinical in cattle, but can occasionally be associated with abortion. In the present study, 100 aborted fetuses or stillborn calves that were submitted for postmortem examination between September 2007 and March 2008 were examined for infection with C burnetii. Samples of both pooled fetal tissues and placental cotyledon were tested using a real-time PCR assay. In addition, the sections of placental cotyledon were examined using immunohistochemistry (IHC). The IHC of four placentas was positive. The PCR results of the IHC-positive placentas were high positive (HP); the PCR results of the organs of these four fetuses and calves varied from low positive (LP) to HP. The four IHC-positive fetuses had a gestation length of seven to nine months. All four placentas had histological signs of inflammation, but only one of four placentas had gross pathological signs of inflammation possibly due to a concomitant infection with Bacillus licheniformis. Five other IHC-negative placentas had (high) positive PCR results; the PCR results of the organs of these fetuses were LP or negative. The present study indicates that C burnetii infections are detected in a limited percentage of aborted fetuses and stillborn calves by IHC. To assess the importance of placentas with PCR-positive and IHC-negative test results, more research is needed.

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