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J Clin Microbiol. 1997 Apr;35(4):892-9.

Characterization of Escherichia coli O157:H7 and other Shiga toxin-producing E. coli serotypes isolated from sheep.

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Department of Microbiology, Molecular Biology, and Biochemistry University of Idaho, Moscow 83843, USA.


The isolation and characterization of Escherichia coli O157:H7 and non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) strains from sheep are described. One flock was investigated for E. coli O157:H7 over a 16-month period that spanned two summer and two autumn seasons. Variation in the occurrence of E. coli O157:H7-positive sheep was observed, with animals being culture positive only in the summer months but not in the spring, autumn, or winter. E. coli O157:H7 isolates were distinguished by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) of chromosomal DNA and toxin gene restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis. Ten PFGE patterns and five RFLP patterns, identified among the isolates, showed that multiple E. coli O157:H7 strains were isolated from one flock, that a single animal simultaneously shed multiple E. coli O157:H7 strains, and that the strains shed by individuals changed over time. E. coli O157:H7 was isolated only by selective enrichment culture off 10 g of ovine feces. In contrast, strains of eight STEC serotypes other than O157:H7 were cultured from feces of sheep from a separate flock without enrichment. The predominant non-O157 STEC serotype found was O91:NM (NM indicates nonmotile), and others included O128:NM, O88:NM, O6:H49, and O5:NM. Irrespective of serotype, 98% of the ovine STEC isolates possessed various combinations of the virulence-associated genes for Shiga toxin(s) and the attaching-and-effacing lesion (stx1, stx2, and eae), suggesting their potential for human pathogenicity. The most common toxin-eae genotype was positive for stx1, stx2, and eae. A Vero cell cytotoxicity assay demonstrated that 90% of the representative STEC isolates tested expressed the toxin gene. The report demonstrates that sheep transiently shed a variety of STEC strains, including E. coli O157:H7, that have potential as human pathogens.

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