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Topic for Research : Bacteriology


Besides the reference tasks and diagnostic work of the reference laboratory, scientific research is a central component of the Operational Directorate of Bacterial Diseases. In this way, we acquire essential expertise, which can then be made available to the appropriate authorities.


The following research topics are high-priority:

  • Genito-pathology in ruminants

Belgium had been officially declared free of brucellosis since 2003. Official surveillance, the quality of serological tests and the culling of Brucellosis-positive animals have contributed to reducing the prevalence of this zoonosis. It nonetheless remains an important point of attention for the reference laboratory and the FASFC (Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain). In December 2010 and in 2012, the disease suddenly reappeared, which shows that the threat persists and that the laboratory's competence in this field must be guaranteed. For on overview of the actual situation on brucellosis and the sanitary measures to be taken by the FASFC, we refer to their website (in Dutch or French only).


Owing to the many cases of Q Fever (C. Burnetii) in the Netherlands since 2007, this disease is also eliciting interest in our country. In the meantime, we are according more and more interest in leptospirosis in respect to the differential diagnosis for abortions in cattle, sheep and goats.


The main tasks of the service Bacterial Zoonoses of Livestock focus on the validation and the improvement of the diagnostic tools.

  • Mycobacteria

Even though Belgium is officially free of bovine tuberculosis (M. bovis), on average five herds are still found to be infected each year,  with the exception of 2010 when no herd was identified. The monitoring of bovine tuberculosis relies primarily on meat inspection and intra-dermal tuberculin testing, but there is also a demand for the interferon-gamma (IFN) test. This test, which measures the animal's cellular immunity, is performed only at the National Reference Laboratory (service Bacterial Zoonoses of Livestock).


Against a background of declining prevalence of bovine tuberculosis, new surveillance models are being studied in cooperation with the CDD-ERA and the AFSCA. To that end, performances of existing serological tests are being assessed and molecular tests for the detection of M. Bovis are evaluated and implemented. Beside that, the study of atypical mycobacterial infections in pigs was initiated as regards bacteriology and serology, as well as molecular tests.


The IFN-test is also being improved for paratubeculosis (M.avium subsp. paratuberculosis).


  • As for the other pathogens studied in the laboratory, the diagnosis of contagious equine metritis (CEM) is getting more attention.

  • Resistance to antibiotics

Monitoring of resistance to antibiotics for Salmonella, E. coli and other bacterial strains in farm animals has resulted in the identification of emerging resistance profiles. In this way it is possible to start with targeted research, as occurred for example in the case of cephalosporin resistance in Salmonella Virchow and Infantis, and ESBL resistance of E. coli in poultry and other animals.


Research on the animal variant of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has also taken a leap forward at CODA-CERVA since this bacterium was demonstrated among Dutch pig farmers in 2006. Both epidemiological studies and research projects for the detection, identification and spread of MRSA and other Staphylococcus aureus isolates from swine and cattle have been started. Particular attention is being paid to alternative measures, such as treatment with bacteriophages or lysine phages.


Since 2011, the FASFC developed new surveillance programmes, i.e. a programme aimed at determining the resistance in E. coli and enterococci in poultry, pigs, cattle, and meat calves; and a monitoring of MRSA in pigs poultry and cattle (animal species as alternating per year. All susceptibility testing and typing of the isolates are done at the NRL Antibiotic Resistance (Service Foodborne and highly pathogenic zoonoses and Antibiotic Resistance) of CODA-CERVA.

  • Highly-pathogenic bacteria

CODA-CERVA (service Foodborne and Highly Pathogenic Zoonoses and Antibiotic Resistance) is the only laboratory in Belgium that has both the authorisations and infrastructure required to culture B. anthracis and Yersinia spp. Since the anthrax letter attacks in the USA in 2001, the laboratory has committed itself to the diagnosis of B. anthracis and other highly-pathogenic bacteria that could be used as a means of bioterrorism, for example the development of a method for the simultaneous detection of B. anthracis, Y.pestis, F. tularensis, Brucella, C.burnetii, B.pseudomallei and B.mallei. The laboratory is also developing molecular techniques that can serve to that end: multiplex PCR, DNA-array.


The persistence of Y. pestis in the environment is a new area of research that has recently been started, and should result in better methods of diagnosis, also in consolidating our position as the NRL for this Biosafety class 3 bacterium.

  • Food-related zoonoses

As the National Reference Laboratory for Salmonella in livestock production (service Foodborne and Highly Pathogenic Zoonoses and Antibiotic Resistance), all isolates of food-producing animals are dispatched to CODA-CERVA for serotyping. Thus, a large collection of strains is available that can be used for scientific research.



Validation of the commercial Salmonella PremiTest® Salmonella kit (DSM), which genotypically serotyps Salmonella by means of a micro-array, is a good example of this.


Studies following diagnosis of zoonotic E. coli (O157 and other serotypes) and other agents that could contaminate the food chain, also form an important part of CODA-CERVA's work.