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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2005 Nov;71(11):6816-22.

Escherichia coli O157:H7 in environments of culture-positive cattle.

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


Outbreaks of Escherichia coli O157:H7 disease associated with animal exhibits have been reported with increasing frequency. Transmission can occur through contact with contaminated haircoats, bedding, farm structures, or water. We investigated the distribution and survival of E. coli O157:H7 in the immediate environments of individually housed, experimentally inoculated cattle by systematically culturing feed, bedding, water, haircoat, and feed bunk walls for E. coli O157:H7 for 3 months. Cedar chip bedding was the most frequently culture-positive environmental sample tested (27/96 or 28.15%). Among these, 12 (44.0%) of positive bedding samples were collected when the penned animal was fecal culture negative. Survival of E. coli O157:H7 in experimentally inoculated cedar chip bedding and in grass hay feed was determined at different temperatures. Survival was longest in feed at room temperature (60 days), but bacterial counts decreased over time. The possibility that urine plays a role in the environmental survival of E. coli O157:H7 was investigated. Cedar chip bedding moistened with sterile water or bovine urine was inoculated with E. coli O157:H7. Bedding moistened with urine supported growth of E. coli O157:H7, whereas inoculated bedding moistened with only water yielded decreasing numbers of bacteria over time. The findings that environmental samples were frequently positive for E. coli O157:H7 at times when animals were culture negative and that urine provided a substrate for E. coli O157:H7 growth have implications for understanding the on-farm ecology of this pathogen and for the safety of ruminant animal exhibits, particularly petting zoos and farms where children may enter animal pens.

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