In a previous study, turkey coronavirus (TCV) and enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (EPEC) were shown to synergistically interact in young turkeys coinfected with these agents. In that study, inapparent or mild disease was observed in turkeys inoculated with only TCV or EPEC, whereas severe growth depression and high mortality were observed in dually inoculated turkeys. The purpose of the present study was to further evaluate the pathogenesis of combined TCV/EPEC infection in young turkeys and determine the role of these agents in the observed synergistic interaction. Experiments were conducted to determine 1) effect of EPEC dose, with and without concurrent TCV infection, and 2) effect of TCV exposure, before and after EPEC exposure, on development of clinical disease. Additionally, the effect of combined infection on TCV and EPEC shedding was determined.
No clinical sign of disease and no attaching and effacing (AE) lesions characteristic of EPEC were observed in turkeys inoculated with only EPEC isolate R98/5, even when turkeys were inoculated with 1010 colony forming units (CFU) EPEC (high dose exposure). Only mild growth depression was observed in turkeys inoculated with only TCV; however, turkeys inoculated with both TCV and 104 CFU EPEC (low dose exposure) developed severe disease characterized by high mortality, marked growth depression, and AE lesions. Inoculation of turkeys with TCV 7 days prior to EPEC inoculation produced more severe disease (numerically greater mortality, significantly lower survival probability [P < 0.05], increased frequency of AE lesions) than that observed in turkeys inoculated with EPEC prior to TCV or simultaneously inoculated with these agents. Coinfection of turkeys with TCV and EPEC resulted in significantly increased (P < 0.05) shedding of EPEC, but not TCV, in intestinal contents of turkeys. These findings indicate that TCV infection predisposes young turkeys to secondary EPEC infection and potentiates the expression of EPEC pathogenicity in young turkeys.