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Volume 18, Number 10—October 2012

Epsilonproteobacteria in Humans, New Zealand

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To the Editor: Cornelius et al. (1) addressed the potential of Campylobacter ureolyticus as an emerging pathogen by conducting a molecular study on 128 diarrheal specimens and 49 fecal samples from healthy volunteers. Reporting the identification of C. ureolyticus in 12 (24.5%) of 49 healthy volunteers, a number that they compared with our finding of 349 (23.8%) from Campylobacter spp.–positive samples (2), the authors concluded that C. ureolyticus species “are unlikely causes of diarrhea,” an assertion with which we take issue.

This interpretation does not take into account that our screening involved 7,194 symptomatic patients: a sample size 40× greater than that of Cornelius et al. In this context, the likely carriage rate for C. ureolyticus is 1.15%. Also, our assay, which has a limit of detection in the picomolar range, is likely comparable with, if not greater than, that of Cornelius et al. (1).

Accounting for variations in geographic location and detection methods, a detection rate of 24.5% in healthy volunteers (overall detection rate 14.7%) is high in contrast to our reported rate of 1.15%. One possible explanation for this discrepancy is that Cornelius et al. “did not specifically exclude volunteers who had had gastrointestinal disturbances in the 10 days before sampling,” Campylobacter can be shed in feces for <4 weeks after infection. Also, Cornelius et al. (1) noted the possibility of “genetically distinct but phenotypically indistinguishable genomospecies differing in their pathogenic potential” to account for the presence of the emerging pathogen C. concisus in healthy volunteers and patients with diarrheal illness. This may also apply for C. ureolyticus.

We reported a strong seasonal prevalence of C. ureolytcius and a bimodal age distribution (2). The lack of any related details from Cornelius et al. may undermine their reported detection rates. These factors strongly suggest that the statement, “these species are unlikely causes of diarrhea,” should, at the very least, be taken under advisement.


Susan Bullman, Daniel Corcoran, James O’Leary, Deirdre Byrne, Brigid Lucey, and Roy D. Sleator
Author affiliations: Cork Institute of Technology, Cork, Ireland (S. Bullman, B. Lucey, R.D. Sleator); and Cork University Hospital, Cork (D. Corcoran, J.O’Leary, D. Byrne, B. Lucey)



  1. Cornelius  AJ, Chambers  S, Aitken  J, Brandt  SM, Horn  B, On  SL. Epsilonproteobacteria in humans, New Zealand. Emerg Infect Dis. 2012;18:5102.DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Bullman  S, Corcoran  D, O’Leary  J, O’Hare  D, Lucey  B, Sleator  RD. Emerging dynamics of human campylobacteriosis in southern Ireland. FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol. 2011;63:24853.DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar


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DOI: 10.3201/eid1810.120369

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In Response: In response to the letter by Bullman et al. (1), a major aspect of our study (2) was to compare epsilonproteobacterial populations in healthy persons and those who have diarrhea. We have not examined as many diarrheal samples as Bullman et al. (3). However, in contrast with their study, we have examined samples from persons with no evident disease manifestations. Because the presence of an agent during disease is not proof of causation, we believed that a baseline for comparison was needed. Campylobacter ureolyticus was found in a greater proportion of samples from healthy persons (24%) than samples from persons who had diarrhea (11%) (p = 0.041, by χ2 test).

Samples from healthy persons were tested on 2 occasions: 18 samples in September 2007 (New Zealand spring) at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research, Christchurch, in the workplace, and 31 samples in June 2009 (New Zealand winter), at Christchurch Hospital under the guidance of a clinician. We have no reason to believe any of the workplace samples were provided when volunteers had diarrhea, particularly considering our workplace guidelines and staff characteristics. In each testing round, 6 fecal samples had positive test results for C. ureolyticus. These periods equate to the peak and trough periods described by Bullman et al. (3). We were unable to provide many details regarding sampling in our paper because of space constraints.

Considering our baseline comparisons of healthy persons with those who had diarrhea, we affirm our conclusions are reasonable and that C. ureolyticus is an unlikely cause of acute diarrheal disease. Similarly, C. ureolyticus (previously classified as Bacteroides ureolyticus) has been detected in patients with Crohn’s disease and in controls (4). However, different subtypes or undescribed subspecies may be pathogenic: some strains exhibit certain pathogenic characteristics in vitro (5) and others yield amplified fragment length polymorphism profiles that are visually quite distinct from others (6). Host factors also cannot be discounted.

Stephen L.W. On, Institute of Environmental Science and Research, Food Safety Programme, 27 Creyke Road , Christchurch, Ilam, PO Box 29 181, New Zealand
Author affiliations: Institute of Environmental Science and Research, Christchurch, New Zealand


  1. Bullman  S, Corcoran  D, O’Leary  J, Byrne  D, Lucey  B, Sleator  R. Epsilonproteobacteria in humans, New Zealand [letter]. Emerg Infect Dis [Internet]. 2012 Oct [cited 2012 Aug 17]. DOIGoogle Scholar
  2. Cornelius  AJ, Chambers  S, Aitken  J, Brandt  SM, Horn  B, On  SLW. Epsilonproteobacteria in humans, New Zealand. Emerg Infect Dis. 2012;18:510–2.DOIGoogle Scholar
  3. Bullman  S, Corcoran  D, O’Leary  J, O’Hare  D, Lucey  B, Byrne  D, Emerging dynamics of human campylobacteriosis in southern Ireland. FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol. 2011;63:248–53.DOIGoogle Scholar
  4. Zhang  L, Man  SM, Day  AS, Leach  ST, Lemberg  DA, Dutt  S, Detection and isolation of Campylobacter species other than C. jejuni from children with Crohn’s disease. [PubMed]. J Clin Microbiol. 2009;47:4535.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Burgos-Portugal  JA, Kaakoush  NO, Raftery  MJ, Mitchell  HM. Pathogenic potential of Campylobacter ureolyticus. Infect Immun. 2012;80:883–90.DOIGoogle Scholar
  6. Vandamme  P, Debruyne  L, De Brandt  E, Falsen  E. Reclassification of Bacteroides ureolyticus as Campylobacter ureolyticus comb. nov., and emended description of the genus Campylobacter. Int J Syst Evol Microbiol. 2010;60:2016–22.DOIGoogle Scholar

Table of Contents – Volume 18, Number 10—October 2012


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