A series of press releases by prominent food chains and wholesalers demanding poultry that has been raised ‘without antibiotics’ has caused a quick paradigm shift in broiler production towards the reduction or elimination of antibiotics and the control of pathologies such as coccidiosis in poultry.
Poultry labelled ‘raised without antibiotics’ are distinctive products that more and more often are found in restaurants and supermarkets. However, making this type of product is a challenge for companies. One of the obstacles to raising chickens without antibiotics is coccidiosis in poultry.
A vaccine dose does not depend on body weight: the mechanism of action of vaccines is different to that of antibiotics and, as a result, the dose does not depend on the body weight of the target animal. When considering vaccines against coccidiosis in poultry, the dose is made up of a suspension of sporulated oocysts of different species of Eimeria.
In this suspension, the oocysts are not evenly distributed unless it is mixed thoroughly. If, in addition to this, the dose is reduced, the chance that the chicks will receive all the oocysts of every species decreases exponentially.
A vaccine does not have to be distributed throughout the body and the vaccine components (antigen and adjuvant) do not act directly on the pathogen. In general, the activity of vaccines starts with a rapid and local innate response depending on the route of administration.
It is our responsibility to search for and choose the right tools to deal with coccidiosis in poultry with current consumer preferences tending towards the purchase of products from livestock grown using sustainable methods.
Because of worldwide concern about drug resistance associated with the immoderate use of antibiotics in poultry production, there has been a major effort to find alternative treatment and methods of prevention.
One of the most worrying problems in poultry production is coccidiosis and how to deal with it without using antibiotics. It is a challenge that, we know, lies in prevention. Furthermore, it is impossible to think in terms of prevention and not to link this to sustainable action.
Depending on the type of production or government rules relating to antibiotic-free product labelling and trade, there will be restrictions on the use of certain products, especially for the treatment of infections or coccidiosis control. Sick flocks should be treated or sacrificed, in order to comply with welfare regulations.
The meaning of antibiotic free products can cause some confusion, mainly because there is no official or international accepted description of what it is and how to classify different types of “antibiotic-free” products or production. Further complications come with anticoccidials for prevention of coccidiosis in poultry. In fact, in some countries they are classified as antimicrobials and as such they have to be withdrawn from “antibiotic-free” productions.
Prevention of coccidiosis in chickens with live vaccines means suspending the use of anticoccidials, but a reduction in other antibiotics has also been observed. Reduction in antibiotic use in animal production is currently one of the aims of the poultry industry. Antimicrobial resistance has become a global public health problem in humans and livestock and plans to reduce the use of antibiotics are being implemented by the authorities in most countries.
Obviously, chemicals and ionophores used to control coccidiosis should be considered as antibiotics because the parasites that are intended to be controlled with these products can develop resistance with prolonged use of these substances.
The fight against coccidiosis in chickens means the adoption of different strategies depending of the type of bird. If we are managing long life cycle birds, we have to pay special attention to clinical Eimeria species that are able to generate a real coccidiosis process with macroscopic lesions and symptoms that will reduce the healthy status of the birds and will compromise the development of immunity against other diseases or cause the death of the birds.
However, when we are rearing standard, certified or even free-range broilers, the focus needs to be a different one. In these cases it will be difficult to find real clinical coccidiosis. Otherwise, the “silent” species – such as Eimeria praecox among others – will affect the intestinal mucosa and will reduce the capacity of a broiler for nutrient absorption. Dealing with subclinical species is essential in coccidiosis in chickens with a high growth rate.
Within the scope of assessing new strategies for the control of coccidiosis in poultry, the first factors to consider are always immunological and physiological but also include less objective factors such as the management. However, when these new strategies come to be assessed, the exercise has to be carried out in perspective by evaluating those indicators that are the most critical in order to decide whether maintaining such strategies or to replacing them with others. In the production of broiler chickens, these indicators are solely productive.
Live precocious attenuated vaccines for coccidiosis in poultry like HIPRACOX® have been used in numerous countries and situations, and these experiences serve to support the implementation of vaccine rotation programmes for the control of coccidiosis in poultry.
EVALON® is a live coccidiosis vaccine against avian coccidiosis in poultry composed of E. acervulina, E. brunetti, E. maxima, E. necatrix and E. tenella. All the strains have been selected to maximize immunogenicity. Avian Eimeria have a complex life cycle with a combination of exogenous and endogenous stages that trigger the immune system of the host. However, Eimeria parasites have also been described as being highly elusive to the immune system as well as producing chemokines than can slow or inhibit the immune response (Jang 2011,Schmid 2014, Miska 2013).
Although it is well known that live vaccines can induce an adequate immunity, we strongly believe that immune modulation is crucial in providing a strong, fast and long-lasting immunity (Dalloul 2005). This could be essential in the prevention of coccidiosis in poultry.