To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report in pigs demonstrating that the same animal may be naturally infected by multiple Salmonella strains. For this, a thorough microbiological analysis of MLN was carried out in a limited number of animals belonging to farms with high salmonellosis prevalence and where multiple circulating Salmonella strain types were previously identified. Although it was not the objective of this study, our results suggest that Salmonella co-infections may be quite common in pig herds with multiple Salmonella circulating strains.
The existence of multiple infections in the same animal suggests that pigs can be either infected simultaneously during a brief period either through one or multiple sources (i.e. food, water, environment, etc.) or re-infected along the different stages of their productive life (i.e. postweaning, growing, and finishing periods). The possibility of re-infection has been previously proposed in sows from which different Salmonella serotypes were isolated from faecal samples collected at different time points
. Nevertheless, the presence of the pathogen in faeces does not necessarily mean an active infection, as Salmonella can circulate passively through the animal’s gut lumen. Faecal culture results should interpreted with caution since these samples can also be easily cross-contaminated during collection. In our study, however, the presence of Salmonella in MLN would reflect a true infection. In the present study, the possibility of MLN cross-contamination was very limited because (i) sampling was performed at different dates; (ii) we used single-use gloves and clothes, liquid disinfectant (DD445, A&B Laboratorios de Biotecnología) and sterilized instruments each time; (iii) MLN samples were individually collected in sterile plastic bags; and (iv) once in the laboratory, MLN samples were defatted and externally decontaminated through alcohol immersion and flaming, as recommended by the ISO method
. Thus, our results demonstrate the presence of active multiple infections as different Salmonella strains were isolated from MLN tissue, which could be colonised only after active enterocyte invasion
Typhimurium and Rissen were the most prevalent Salmonella serotypes identified, which is in agreement with the findings of a large study performed previously in the same pig population
. It is worth to note that Kapemba was also found in a relative high frequency (11.4%) but always accompanied by Typhimurium. In contrast, Kapemba was rarely isolated at both individual (1.8%) and herd (3.7%) levels in the previous large study
, and also in the baseline study carried out in the EU
. Such differences could be due to the different identification strategy used in these studies, since serotyping was performed exclusively on one colony from each animal in these large-scale studies.
For epidemiological purposes, the international standards recommend confirming the presence of Salmonella by typing one (up to 5) colony per sample
. Although this microbiological approach may be useful to confirm infection, it could easily overlook the presence of the less predominant strains, since the more prevalent ones appear to be always present in MLN co-infections (Table
1). Therefore, epidemiological studies based on the serotyping of a single bacterial colony, such as those focused on the eradication of specific serotypes (i.e. national control programmes against major zoonotic Salmonella serotypes) may be overrepresenting the prevalent strains and understimating other potentially pathogenic but less predominant serotypes. Likewise, outbreak investigations would require the analysis of several colonies from the same animal to identify the main source of infection. Systematic screening of multiple colonies from individual pig samples could contribute to the trace back of many Salmonella outbreaks origin in humans
The coexistence of Salmonella strains with different multi-AR profiles within the same pig as primary reservoir may have important epidemiological consequences. This can promote exchange and propagation of mobile genetic elements between bacterial strains that share the same biological niche in vivo. In this study, co-infections by Salmonella strains showing different AR profiles were relatively frequent, regardless of the serotype. In fact, most of animals studied (11 out 14) were simultaneously infected by strains showing 2 or 3 different AR profiles. The finding that pigs with co-infections showed different AR profiles against common antimicrobial agents suggested that genetic exchange could be taking place within the same animal, generating a genetic variability in Salmonella. Horizontal transfer of AR genes or IC1 was not observed in three animals (animal codes 3, 7 and 8, Table
1) harbouring both susceptible and multi-AR strains, but genetic exchanges could not be excluded in these animals
SGI1 was detected only in Typhimurium strains from two animals (animal codes 6 and 12, Table
1) containing also the characteristic IC1 1000-1200 bp double band with the double aadA2-pse1 gene cassette, and the typical penta-AR (ACCSuT or ACSSuTNx) of DT104 phagetype
. The widespread dissemination of Typhimurium DT104 clone was particularly relevant since it was first isolated in the early 80´s in UK cattle and subsequently reported worldwide in a wide variety of animal species including pigs, animal foodstuff, and humans
[24, 25]. Similarly, other emergent variants, such as the monophasic variant of Typhimurium DT193 phagetype carrying the multi-AR ASSuT
 have been detected, and epidemiological surveillance is therefore recommended
IC1 genotypes are the most frequent carriers of AR genes in Salmonellae, but these genes could also be present in other integrons
[28, 29]. In fact, IC1 was not detected in some strains resistant to one (aminopenicillins or tetracycline) or more (SSu, SSuT or ACST) antimicrobial agents. However, a quick detection of AR strains is critical for a successful treatment in human beings. Thus, the IC1 PCR analysis of several Salmonella colonies from a Salmonella-positive sample should be considered as a suitable (quick, easy, low cost, and effective) screening approach for detecting multi-AR genetic mobile elements.
The presence of simultaneous infections by Salmonella strains of different serotype, serogroup and AR profiles could also have immunological implications on the host-pathogen interaction. Thus, if infections occur over time, our results may suggest a limited Genus-, serogroup- and species- specific protection of pigs after a primary Salmonella infection, but further studies are needed for a better understanding of the host-pathogen interactions. The existence of co-infections in a single animal and within the same herd may assist in the development of effective vaccines, therapeutics and control programmes against pig salmonellosis.