Listeria monocytogenes is a ubiquitous Gram-positive bacterium responsible for a severe foodborne disease in humans, and contaminated dairy products can be an important source of infection. Typically, infected dairy ruminants show clinical manifestations including encephalitis, septicemia, abortion, and diarrhea, but may also become asymptomatic carriers and shed L. monocytogenes in the feces acting as an important source of viable bacteria. Isolation from individual goat milk has been documented very rarely, and chronic, asymptomatic intramammary infection by L. monocytogenes with continuous milk shedding of viable bacteria has never been described in this dairy species.
At the routine controls, cheese and bulk milk were positive for L. monocytogenes in a herd of 200 lactating Alpine goats, but none showed clinical signs of listeriosis. Individual milk was subjected to bacterial culture and a clinically healthy goat was identified as affected by a chronic intramammary infection (IMI) by L. monocytogenes. The goat had never shown clinical signs of mastitis or other diseases. Her right half-udder milk was positive to L. monocytogenes in two consecutive samples collected one week apart, as demonstrated by bacterial culture and molecular analysis. Mammary tissues collected after culling were also positive to L. monocytogenes by culture. Histological examination highlighted a chronic interstitial mastitis with leukocyte infiltration, atrophy of the alveoli and presence of corpora amylacea. Immunohistochemistry (IHC) and immunofluorescence (IF) confirmed the presence of high numbers of bacteria in the lumen of mammary alveoli, with intracellular bacteria mainly located in macrophages, but also present in neutrophils and epithelial cells. After culling of the positive goat, bulk tank milk tested negative to L. monocytogenes at the following controls.
This study demonstrates that L. monocytogenes can establish a chronic, subclinical IMI in goats with high numbers of bacteria shed in milk, representing a source of contamination for the herd and its dairy products. This underscores the importance of frequently monitoring all dairy herds that sell directly milk and/or fresh cheese and indicates that a chronic L. monocytogenes IMI should also be considered as source of bacteria when bulk tank milk contamination is detected in a dairy goat farm.