Using quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) and occupancy models to estimate atypical Aeromonas hydrophila (aAh) prevalence in catfish

Channel Catfish showing clinical signs of aAh infection


A strain of atypical Aeromonas hydrophila (aAh) has caused issues within the channel catfish Ictalurus punctatus industry of the southeastern United States since 2009. These atypical pathotypes cause acute mortality events resulting in catastrophic losses, as opposed to more chronic mortality and lesions seen in typical infections of motile aeromonas septicemia (MAS). This study provides a basic framework for rapid field sampling negating the need for re-isolation or enrichment culture, thereby reducing the time between sampling and detection. Rapid and accurate quantitative PCR based methods for detection of aAh have been described and are important confirmative tools in research and diagnostic settings. These methods also have application in epidemiological surveys investigating the spread of disease and elucidating pathogen dynamics that may lead to outbreaks. To date, no field-based sampling technique for rapid aAh detection in resident pond populations has been explored. In this study, culture swabs taken from the gills and lower intestine of pond-raised catfish were assessed for their suitability as rapid field-based collection methods for downstream applications. Results showed the state of the pond has a significant effect on which swab location yields the highest proportion of PCR positive results. During an active outbreak, gill swabs identified more fish as aAh-positive; however, in apparently healthy populations, swabs taken from the lower intestine identified significantly more aAh-positive fish than gill swabs, despite no statistical difference in the concentration of aAh cell equivalents between swab sites. Naïve prevalence estimates from the two swab types were compared to estimates provided by a hierarchical occupancy model. Prevalence estimates from gill swabs was 0.95% while vent swabs showed a prevalence of 2.2%; however, estimates based on the occupancy model were 6.6% and 9.8%, respectively. This multi-fold increase in prevalence estimates highlights the importance of accounting for imperfect detection in epidemiological studies and in assessing potential outbreak risk. Furthermore, occupancy models based on these data indicate resident fish can be aAh-positive carriers with no gross signs of infection, providing evidence aAh can reside in catfish ponds in the absence of disease. The presence of a carrier state indicates the pathogen may pose minimal risk to the host is compromised or a mechanical portal of entry into the blood stream is available. This provides an important direction for future research in understanding the mechanisms of aAh outbreaks in catfish aquaculture ponds.

Aquaculture, XX(XX)
Bradley M. Richardson
Bradley M. Richardson
PhD Candidate

My research interests include aquatic ecology, species interactions, aquatic macroinvertebrates, and freshwater fishes.

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