The incidence of Clostridium perfringens-associated necrotic enteritis in poultry has increased in countries that stopped using antibiotic growth promoters. Necrotic enteritis and the subclinical form of C. perfringens infection in poultry are caused by C. perfringens type A, producing the alpha toxin, and to a lesser extent type C, producing both alpha toxin and beta toxin. Some strains of C. perfringens type A produce an enterotoxin at the moment of sporulation and are responsible for foodborne disease in humans. The mechanisms of colonization of the avian small intestinal tract and the factors involved in toxin production are largely unknown. It is generally accepted, however, that predisposing factors are required for these bacteria to colonize and cause disease in poultry. The best known predisposing factor is mucosal damage, caused by coccidiosis. Diets with high levels of indigestible, water-soluble non-starch polysaccharides, known to increase the viscosity of the intestinal contents, also predispose to necrotic enteritis. Standardized models are being developed for the reproduction of colonization of poultry by C. perfringens and the C. perfringens-associated necrotic enteritis. One such model is a combined infection with Eimeria species and C. perfringens. Few tools and strategies are available for prevention and control of C. perfringens in poultry. Vaccination against the pathogen and the use of probiotic and prebiotic products has been suggested, but are not available for practical use in the field at the present time. The most cost-effective control will probably be achieved by balancing the composition of the feed.
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