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Vet Microbiol. 2001 Sep 28;82(3):275-83.

Detection and characterization of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli in feral pigeons.

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Laboratorio di Medicina Veterinaria, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Viale Regina Elena 299, I-00161 Rome, Italy.


Escherichia coli strains producing a variant of Shiga toxin 2 (Stx2), designated Stx2f, have been recently described in the stools of feral pigeons. During 1997-1998, 649 pigeons were trapped and examined in three different squares of Rome. Stool samples were collected from each bird and enrichment cultures were examined for the presence of Stx by the vero cell assay. Stx-producing E. coli (STEC) were isolated from the positive cultures and characterized by serotyping and PCR analysis of stx and other virulence-related genes. Stx was detected in 10.8% of the stool enrichment cultures. The percentage of positive birds did not differ significantly for the three flocks considered and the season of sample collection. Conversely, STEC carriage was significantly more frequent in young than in adult birds (17.9 versus 8.2%). None of the birds examined showed signs of disease. STEC strains were isolated from 30 of 42 Stx-positive cultures examined. All the strains produced Stx2f, and most of them possessed genes encoding for intimin and the cytolethal distending toxin (CLDT). Six serogroups were identified, but most of the isolates belonged to O45, O18ab, and O75. Molecular typing indicated that most of the isolates within a flock were clonally-related. This work confirms that pigeons represent a natural reservoir of STEC strains characterized by the production of the toxin variant Stx2f, and by the frequent presence of eae and cldt genes. Further work is needed to clarify whether these STEC may represent a cause of avian disease or even a potential health hazard for humans.

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