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Foodborne Pathog Dis. 2011 Apr;8(4):465-87. doi: 10.1089/fpd.2010.0673. Epub 2010 Nov 30.

Escherichia coli O157:H7: animal reservoir and sources of human infection.

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Department of Microbiology, Molecular Biology, and Biochemistry, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho 83844-3052, USA.


This review surveys the literature on carriage and transmission of enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) O157:H7 in the context of virulence factors and sampling/culture technique. EHEC of the O157:H7 serotype are worldwide zoonotic pathogens responsible for the majority of severe cases of human EHEC disease. EHEC O157:H7 strains are carried primarily by healthy cattle and other ruminants, but most of the bovine strains are not transmitted to people, and do not exhibit virulence factors associated with human disease. Prevalence of EHEC O157:H7 is probably underestimated. Carriage of EHEC O157:H7 by individual animals is typically short-lived, but pen and farm prevalence of specific isolates may extend for months or years and some carriers, designated as supershedders, may harbor high intestinal numbers of the pathogen for extended periods. The prevalence of EHEC O157:H7 in cattle peaks in the summer and is higher in postweaned calves and heifers than in younger and older animals. Virulent strains of EHEC O157:H7 are rarely harbored by pigs or chickens, but are found in turkeys. The bacteria rarely occur in wildlife with the exception of deer and are only sporadically carried by domestic animals and synanthropic rodents and birds. EHEC O157:H7 occur in amphibian, fish, and invertebrate carriers, and can colonize plant surfaces and tissues via attachment mechanisms different from those mediating intestinal attachment. Strains of EHEC O157:H7 exhibit high genetic variability but typically a small number of genetic types predominate in groups of cattle and a farm environment. Transmission to people occurs primarily via ingestion of inadequately processed contaminated food or water and less frequently through contact with manure, animals, or infected people.

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