Editors note: This page has been reviewed for currency and accuracy. Updates appear in blue. (3/2010)
Heat is commonly used to kill microbes and render feed for animals and food for humans safe for consumption. The thermal tolerance of MAP, specifically the capacity to survive pasteurization, has received considerable research attention. Some published reports suggest that MAP can survive standard commercial HTST pasteurization (161F [71.7C] for 15 seconds) while others suggest it can not. There is no question that these time-temperature combinations kill the vast majority of MAP in milk or meat. The scientific debate centers around whether every last single MAP cell is killed every time. At the core of this debate is an assumption that the “killing curve” is linear, i.e. a straight line when plotted on a log-linear graph showing the number of remaining living organisms at each time point. For an example, see the dashed black line on the adjacent graph. Experiments that count living MAP after 0, 5, and 10 seconds of exposure to heat yield counts of surviving MAP cells. These points on a graph are then connected by a straight line resulting in the conclusion that 5 or more logs of MAP cells will be killed by pasteurization and that after 15 seconds of this heat exposure all MAP cells will be dead.
Data from multiple investigators and diverse lines of investigation suggest that the killing curve is actually not linear. Rather, it seems that the curve plateaus,a so called “tailing-effect”. This means that the rate at which the initial number of MAP dies off when exposed to more and more heat slows down, and that a small population may be unaffected. This tailing of the thermal death curve for MAP was recently shown in the study of Foddai et al. as illustrated by the solid red line on the adjacent graph. Nonlinear killing of MAP by heat in the range used for HTST pasteurization of milk is consistent with the recovery at low levels of viable (living) MAP from retail HTST pasteurized milk as reported by three independent studies in three different countries.
Several theories have been suggested to explain the survival of low numbers of MAP after pasteurization. Examples are: 1) formation of large clumps of MAP cells providing protection of the inner-most cells from heat; 2) a small portion of MAP cells may be in a dormant or resting state that is more heat-resistant; 3) MAP may produce spores, or spore-like forms, that have heightened heat resistance. As yet, none of these theories has been convincingly proven for MAP. Moreover, not all experts agree that the tailing effect for the MAP thermal death curve is correct. Concerning exposure to cold, in 1977 Richards and Thoen showed that the number of living MAP in fecal samples from naturally and experimentally infected cattle was significantly decreased after freezing at -70°C after 3 weeks. Continued refrigeration up to 15 weeks did not result in further decline in the number of MAP.
Khare et al. in 2008 evaluated the net effect of various bovine fecal sample shipment and storage conditions on detection of MAP by culture or PCR. They concluded that short-term storage at 4°C (typical refrigerator temperature) and long-term storage at -70°C (ultra-cold freezers found in research labs) had no deleterious effects on MAP viability, but short-term storage a -20°C (typical home freezer) substantially reduced MAP viability.
Interestingly, results of studies on cold tolerance of MAP seem to mirror those of heat tolerance, i.e. there is an initial die-off of susceptible MAP cells followed by prolonged survival of a subpopulation of resistant cells. In other words, the killing curves are non-linear and may indicate a mechanism for a subset of MAP cells to survive harsh temperature conditions.
UV doses required for
bacterial and viral inactivation are relatively low, typically in the range of
2 to 6 mW-s/cm2 for 1 log inactivation. (Since water characteristics
such as pH, hardness, turbulence, turbidity, and biological oxygen demand dramatically
affect UV disinfection efficiency, any generalization of these doses to other
water treatment protocols would be ill advised.) When 105-106
MAP were suspended in sterile deionized water 4 mW-s/cm2
was sufficient to achieve a 1 log reduction in viable counts and at UV doses greater
than15 mW-s/cm2 complete disinfection was achieved (Manning, unpublished
data). Studies on use of UV treatment to kill MAP in milk are in agreement with these findings.
Mycobacteria are notorious for their resistance to antibiotics that kill most other bacteria. Only a select few antibiotics can be used to treat mycobacterial infections effectively and in most cases the course of therapy is weeks to months. MAP, like its close relatives MAA and MAH, is even resistant to antibiotics that normally are efficacious against M. tuberculosis, the cause of tuberculosis. Antimicrobial therapy for Johne's disease is not often attempted, as the cost of the drugs for these large animals and the duration of treatment required make it cost-prohibitive for livestock.
A recent study assessing antimicrobial agents to determine which were most effective against MAP specifically (Krishnan et al. J. Antimicrob. Chemother. 64:310-316, 2009) found that the in vitro drug susceptibility pattern for MAP was similar to that of MAH, and did not differ significantly among MAP isolates originating from humans or animals (see details in the adjacent graphic).