Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (MAP) is the etiologic agent of paratuberculosis. The organism causes disease in both domestically managed and wild ruminant species. South American camelids have a long, shared history with indigenous people in the Andes. Over the last few decades, increasing numbers of alpacas were exported to numerous countries outside South America. No paratuberculosis surveillance has been reported for these source herds. In this study, individual fecal samples from 85 adult alpacas were collected from six separate herds in the Chilean Altiplano. A ParaTB mycobacterial growth indicator tube (MGIT) liquid culture of each individual fecal sample, followed by real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) protocol was used for confirmation. DNA extracts from a subset of confirmed MAP isolates were subjected to mycobacterial interspersed repetitive units-variable number of tandem repeats (MIRU-VNTR) typing. Fifteen alpaca were fecal culture test-positive. Five false-positive culture samples were negative on PCR analysis for Mycobacterium avium subsp. avium (MAA), Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis), and the 16 S rDNA gene. Three MAP isolates subset-tested belonged to the same MIRU-VNTR type, showing four repeats for TR292 (locus 1) in contrast to the three repeats typical of the MAP reference strain K10. The number of repeats found in the remaining loci was identical to that of the K10 strain. It is not known how nor when MAP was introduced into the alpaca population in the Chilean Altiplano. The most plausible hypothesis to explain the presence of MAP in these indigenous populations is transmission by contact with infected domestic small ruminant species that may on occasion share pastures or range with alpacas. Isolation of this mycobacterial pathogen from such a remote region suggests that MAP has found its way beyond the confines of intensively managed domestic agriculture premises.
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