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Vet Microbiol. 2003 Jun 24;94(1):47-56.

Serotypes, phage types and virulence genes of shiga-producing Escherichia coli isolated from sheep in Spain.

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Patología Infecciosa, Facultad de Veterinaria, Universidad de Extremadura, Cáceres, Spain.



Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), have emerged as food poisoning pathogens which can cause severe diseases in humans.


The aim of this study was to determinate the serotypes and virulence genes of STEC strains isolated from sheep in Spain, with the purpose of determining whether sheep represent a potential source of STEC pathogenic for humans.


Faecal swabs obtained from 697 healthy lambs on 35 flocks in Spain during the years 2000 and 2001 were examined for STEC using phenotypic (Vero cells) and genotypic (PCR) methods.


STEC O157:H7 strains were isolated from seven (1%) animals in six flocks, whereas non-O157 STEC strains were isolated from 246 (35%) lambs in 33 flocks. A total of 253 ovine STEC strains were identified in this study. PCR showed that 110 (43%) strains carried stx(1) genes, 10 (4%) possessed stx(2) genes and 133 (53%) both stx(1) and stx(2). Enterohaemolysin (ehxA) and intimin (eae) virulence genes were detected in 120 (47%) and in 9 (4%) of the STEC strains. STEC strains belonged to 22 O serogroups and 44 O:H serotypes. However, 70% were of one of these six serogroups (O6, O91, O117, O128, O146, O166) and 71% belonged to only nine serotypes (O6:H10, O76:H19, O91:H-, O117:H-, O128:H-, O128:H2, O146:H21, O157:H7, O166:H28). A total of 10 new O:H serotypes not previously reported in STEC strains were found in this study. Seven strains of serotype O157:H7 possessed intimin type gamma1, and two strains of serotype O156:H- had the new intimin zeta. STEC O157:H7 strains were phage types 54 (four strains), 34 (two strains) and 14 (one strain).


This study confirms that healthy sheep are a major reservoir of STEC pathogenic for humans. However, because the eae gene is present only in a very small proportion of ovine non-O157 STEC, most ovine strains may be less pathogenic.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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