J Dairy Sci. 2023 Mar 10:S0022-0302(23)00115-7. doi: 10.3168/jds.2022-22496. Online ahead of print.
Staphylococcus aureus is a major mastitis pathogen in dairy cattle worldwide, responsible for substantial economic losses. Environmental factors, milking routine, and good maintenance of milking equipment have been described as important factors to prevent intramammary infections (IMI). Staphylococcus aureus IMI can be widespread within the farm or the infection can be limited to few animals. Several studies have reported that Staph. aureus genotypes differ in their ability to spread within a herd. In particular, Staph. aureus belonging to ribosomal spacer PCR genotype B (GTB)/clonal complex 8 (CC8) is associated with high within-herd prevalence of IMI, whereas other genotypes are generally associated with individual cow disease. The adlb gene seems to be strictly related to Staph. aureus GTB/CC8, and is a potential marker of contagiousness. We investigated Staph. aureus IMI prevalence in 60 herds in northern Italy. In the same farms, we assessed specific indicators linked to milking management (e.g., teat condition score and udder hygiene score) and additional milking risk factors for IMI spread. Ribosomal spacer-PCR and adlb-targeted PCR were performed on 262 Staph. aureus isolates, of which 77 underwent multilocus sequence typing. In most of the herds (90%), a predominant genotype was identified, especially Staph. aureus CC8 (30%). In 19 of 60 herds, the predominant circulating Staph. aureus was adlb-positive and the observed IMI prevalence was relevant. Moreover, the adlb gene was detected only in genotypes of CC8 and CC97. Statistical analysis showed a strong association between the prevalence of Staph. aureus IMI, the specific CCs, and carriage of adlb, with the predominant circulating CC and presence of the gene alone explaining the total variation. Interestingly, the difference in the odds ratio obtained in the models for CC8 and CC97 suggests that it is carriage of the adlb gene, rather than the circulation of these CCs per se, that leads to higher within-herd prevalence of Staph. aureus. In addition, the model showed that environmental and milking management factors had no or minimal effect on Staph. aureus IMI prevalence. In conclusion, the circulation of adlb-positive Staph. aureus strains within a herd has a strong effect on the prevalence of IMI. Thus, adlb can be proposed as a genetic marker of contagiousness for Staph. aureus IMI in cattle. However, further analyses using whole-genome sequencing are required to understand the role of genes other than adlb that may be involved in the mechanisms of contagiousness of Staph. aureus strains associated with high prevalence of IMI.