Date: 19 Mar 2002

Use of Phenotyping and Genotyping to Verify Transmission of Escherichia coli O157:H7 from Dairy Farms

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Abstract

A total of 80 human infections by Escherichia coli O157:H7 were documented in Finland in 1997 and 1998. Most were sporadic and their sources undetermined. Five cases not associated with one another, one of which led to secondary transmission within a family, could be traced to five different dairy farms. These five case patients (age range 2–17 years, median age 3 years) were hospitalised with bloody diarrhoea; two of them developed haemolytic uraemic syndrome. All nine human isolates obtained were sorbitol negative, carried the verocytotoxin 2 and eae genes, and produced verocytotoxin and enterohaemolysin. The phage and pulsed-field gel electrophoresis types of the human and bovine isolates from the corresponding farms were indistinguishable. The cattle (20–70 animals per farm) were monitored for up to 2 years after the human cases. The proportion of cattle excreting the type that caused the human infections varied from 3.2 to 66.7% when sampled soon after the human cases, and from 0.0 to 5.3% about a year or so later. On most of the farms, the animals excreted the pathogen intermittently. On one farm, Escherichia coli O157 isolates with other characteristics were also occasionally isolated. Although the infections were traced back to the farms, it could not be established whether the source was unpasteurised milk or direct or indirect contact with cattle. The results of this study emphasise the need for special recommendations for children visiting or living on a farm to prevent these infections.

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