Flock of 20,000 11-week-old commercial meat turkeys, Meleagris gallopavo.Flock experienced a spike in mortality. Flock is housed in barn and bedded with a layer of shavings on top of dirt floors. This is the first time this disease has been identified on this farm but the producer does have a second farm where turkeys are also raised and this disease has been a recurring problem on that farm.

Gross Description:  

The submitting vet-erinarian described swollen livers with yellow streaking and very enlarged dark spleens in the turkeys that were necropsied. Birds also had unclotted blood in the abdominal cavity.

Histopathologic Description:

The liver is moderately congested. Multiple variably-sized foci of hepatic necrosis, characterized by individualized, hy-pereosinophilic hepatocytes with granular or shrunken, hyalinized cytoplasm and either lacking nuclei or containing pyknotic or karyorhectic nuclei, are closely associated with terminal hepatic veins. Hepatocytes surrounding these necrotic foci are occasionally swollen with pale vacuolated cytoplasm. Multifocally, veins and sinusoids and less frequently small arteries contain fibrin thrombi bearing mats of slender rod-shaped and sometimes gently curved bacteria. Similar appearing bacteria are also free in sinusoids and within activated Kupffer cells, which also contain pha-gocytized debris including red blood cells. Occasionally the walls of veins and small arteries containing fibrin thrombi have segmental necrosis, with some affected arteries having intramural heterophils and rarely small amounts of nuclear debris.

Morphologic Diagnosis:  

Liver:   Mild, acute, multifocal, hepatic necrosis with necrotizing vasculitis and intravascular fibrin thrombi containing colonies of pleomorphic rod-shaped bacteria. Liver: Moderate hepatic congestion

Lab Results:  

4+ Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae was recovered from a swab of the internal organs.


Erysipelothrix rhusiopathae

Contributor Comment:  

Erysipelas is an acute septicemic disease occurring most commonly in older male turkeys. The differential diagnosis includes other gram-negative bacterial septicemias caused by agents such as E. coli, Salmonella spp. or Pasteurella multocida.2 Histologically, the pathology of an Erysipelothrix rh-usiopathiae infection is different from most gram-positive agents, first because of the sheer numbers of bacteria present and secondly because of their variable appearance, with slender rod-shaped to slightly curved bacteria aggregating in mats within vessel and capillary lumens and entangled in fibrinous thrombi. Because these bacteria are slow growing, a rapid presumptive diagnosis can also be made by identification of clumps of gram-positive slender straight or slightly curved rod-shaped bacteria from organ or bone marrow smears.2 This case was submitted to the lab in early October which is typical for cases of erysipelas, as outbreaks are reported to occur most often in the late fall or winter. It is thought that the bacteria can persist in the soil and since many grow-out barns for turkeys have dirt floors, the risk of repeat occurrences exists.2 In this case, this farm has never experienced an outbreak of erysipelas but the other farm has and it is suspected that there was mechanical transfer of the bacterium from one farm to another. Penicillin is the antibiotic of choice for treating erysipelas. Vaccination using a killed bacterin is an option if the risk of infection is high.2 In humans, the infection caused by Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae is known as erysipeloid, a skin infection typically localized to fingers and hands and usually preceded by an abrasion or cut. The lesion is actually a cellulitis and is very painful. Systemic effects, such as septicemia and endocarditis can occur but are uncommon.6 Most cases of human infection are the result of occupational exposure and those occupations at higher risk include fish handlers, veterinarians, farmers, slaughter plant workers and butchers. Some colloquial names for this condition include fish handler's disease, seal finger and whale finger. 

JPC Diagnosis:  

Liver: Hepatitis, nec-rotizing, acute, multifocal, random, with septic fibrin thrombi and vasculitis.

Conference Comment:  

In addition to outbreaks in domestic turkeys, E. rhusiopathiae outbreaks have also been reported in laying hens in Europe,3 and sporadically in a variety of other captive and free-ranging birds. The organism is fas-tidious and able to survive in the environment for extended periods. It may be transmitted by cuts and abrasions or through ingestion. It is generally considered to follow an acute course characterized by septicemia, but a chronic form also occurs in turkeys,1 which appear to be most susceptible to infection. In addition to thromboembolism, bacterial endocarditis and joint infections1 may be seen in affected turkeys, among other signs of septicemia. Thrombosis and hemorrhage are commonly reported in avian species infected with E. rhusiopathiae, reflecting the vasculocentric nature of the disease. Grossly, carcasses of affected birds are in good flesh and exhibit organomegaly of the liver, spleen and kidneys, as well as eccymotic hemorrhages in the subcutis and muscles.1 Routes of infection include fomites, contaminated soil, insect vectors, asymptomatic carrier animals and contaminated feed.3,4  

Although it has been reported, infection in psittacine birds is considered rare. In a case report of infection in a mixed species aviary, lesions included thrombosis, bacterial th-romboembolism, necrotizing hepatitis, necrohemorrhagic myocarditis, and hem-orrhage.4 E. rhusiopathiae infection has also been reported in emus, which are large flightless birds that are grouped with other ratites such as ostriches and rheas. Lesions similar to those reported in other species are also seen in emus, including hepatocellular necrosis with absence of an abrupt inflammatory response. Bacteria may be observed in multiple organs, including the kidneys and small intestine as well as the liver; the presence of fibrin thrombi, while prominent in many cases, may be variable.5


1. Bobrek K, Gawel A, Mazurkiewicz M. Infections with Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae in poultry flocks. World's Poultry Science Journal. 2013; 69(4):803-812.

2. Bricker JM, Saif YM. Erysipelas. In: Saif YM, ed. Diseases of Poultry. 12th ed. Ames, IA: Blackwell Publishing; 2008:909-922. 

3. Eriksson H, Bagge E, Båverud V, Fellstrom C, et al. Erysipelothrox rhusiopathiae contamination in the poultry house environment during erysipelas outbreaks in organic laying hen flocks. Avian Pathol. 2014; 43(3):231-237.

4. Galindo-Cardiel I, Opriessnig T, Molina L, Juan-Salles C. Outbreak of mortality in psittacine birds in a mixed-species aviary associated with Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae infection. Vet Pathol. 2012; 49(3):498-502.

5. Morgan MJ, Britt JO, Cockrill JM, Eiten ML. Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae infection in an emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae). J Vet Diagn Invest. 1994; 6:378-379.

6. Reboli, A, Farrar WE. Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae: An occupational pathogen. Clin Microbiol Rev. 1989; 2:354-359.

Click the slide to view.

1-1. Liver, turkey. 

1-2. Liver, turkey. 

1-3. Liver, turkey.

1-4. Liver, turkey.

1-5. Liver, turkey.

1-6. Liver, turkey. 

Back | VP Home | Contact Us |