The objective of this study was to determine whether Lawsonia intracellularis was present in the feces of free-living animals collected on two equine premises with documented occurrence of equine proliferative enteropathy (EPE). Fresh feces from black-tailed jackrabbits (Lepus californicus, n=100), striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis, n=22), feral cats (Felis catus, n=14), Brewer's Blackbirds (Euphagus cyanocephalus, n=10), Virginian opossums (Didelphis virginiana, n=9), raccoons (Procyon lotor, n=4), California ground squirrels (Spermophilus beecheyi, n=3), and coyotes (Canis latrans, n=2) were collected from August 2006 to January 2007 either from the ground while walking the premises or after trapping the animals using live traps. Nucleic acid purified from feces was directly processed for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis using a real-time PCR assay targeting the aspartate ammonia lyase gene of L. intracellularis. Purified DNA samples were also precipitated, preamplified for L. intracellularis, and analyzed using the same real-time PCR assay, to increase the detection limit to one L. intracellularis organism per extracted sample. Feces from jackrabbits, striped skunks, Virginian opossums, and coyotes tested PCR positive for L. intracellularis, whereas all feces from feral cats, Brewer's Blackbirds, raccoons, and ground squirrels tested PCR negative for L. intracellularis. PCR testing on DNA extracted directly from feces was positive for L. intracellularis in six of 164 fecal samples. When DNA purification from feces was followed by a precipitation and preamplification step, five additional fecal samples tested PCR positive for L. intracellularis (11/164). The largest number of PCR positive L. intracellularis fecal samples was observed in striped skunks, followed by Virginian opossums, jackrabbits, and coyotes. This is the first description of L. intracellularis in these four species. Because the fecal samples were collected at equine farms with confirmed cases of EPE, striped skunks, Virginian opossums, jackrabbits, and coyotes may act as potential sources of infection to susceptible weanlings.
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Vol. 44 • No. 4