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J Appl Microbiol. 2005;98(5):1075-83.

Persistence of Escherichia coli O157 on farm surfaces under different environmental conditions.

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1
School of Agricultural and Forest Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor, Gwynedd, UK.

Abstract

AIMS:

To compare the persistence of Escherichia coli O157 on a variety of common faecally contaminated farmyard material surfaces (wood and steel) under different moisture and temperature regimes.

METHODS AND RESULTS:

Samples of field-conditioned farmyard materials (galvanized steel and wood) were cut into pieces and contaminated with fresh cattle faeces inoculated with nontoxigenic E. coli O157 (strain 3704). Thereafter, they were stored at four different environmental conditions; with temperature (5 and 20 degrees C) and moisture (moist or dry) as variables. Transfer of the pathogen to hands from the surfaces was also evaluated. Escherichia coli O157 numbers declined over time on all surfaces albeit at different rates according to the sample material and environmental conditions. Persistence was greatest on moist wood samples under cooler temperatures with large population numbers remaining after 28 days. Desiccation of surfaces resulted in a more rapid decline in E. coli O157 populations under both temperature regimes. Substantial numbers of colonies may also potentially be transferred to human hands from the surfaces during brief contact.

CONCLUSIONS:

When environmental conditions are favourable, E. coli O157 may persist for considerable times on a range of surfaces. However, when exposed to higher temperatures and dehydration, survival is notably decreased. Overall, bacterial persistence was significantly greater on wood samples relative to steel.

SIGNIFICANCE AND IMPACT OF THE STUDY:

Escherichia coli O157 is a prevalent pathogen, common in ruminant faeces. Contact with contaminated faeces may lead to human infection, resulting in possible severe illness. Although our study used only one strain of bacteria, our findings indicates that E. coli O157 has the potential to persist for long periods of time on gates, stiles and other farmyard surfaces under a range of environmental conditions. These farmyard surfaces therefore pose a potential infection pathway particularly where there is a high risk of direct human contact (e.g. child petting zoos, open farms).

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