Project Summary

Identification and Evaluation of Cattle Persistently Shedding vs. Cattle Non-Persistently Shedding Escherichia coli O157:H7

Principle Investigator(s):
Brandon A. Carlson, Kendra Nightingale, John A. Scanga, J. Daryl Tatum, John N. Sofos, Gary C. Smith, and Keith E. Belk
Colorado State University
Completion Date:
May 2006



It is generally accepted that cattle are a major reservoir of E. coli O157:H7, a zoonotic pathogen that has become a significant cause of human hemorrhagic colitis and hemolytic uremic syndrome. It is poorly understood if animals become colonized with E. coli O157:H7, or if they transiently shed the organism after ingestion of environmental contamination. It was previously reported that fecal shedding of E. coli O157:H7 from feedlot steers ranged from 1% to 80% over a 136-day sampling period. Based on that finding, it is reasonable to believe that at least some animals transiently shed E. coli O157:H7 at some point in their lives. It has been previously shown that when calves are orally infected with E. coli O157:H7, they shed the organism consistently for 70 d and intermittently thereafter. Furthermore, E. coli O157:H7 could be cultured from feces, colonic and cecal contents 118 d after infection. Several other studies have shown evidence of persistence of E. coli O157:H7 infection in individual cattle, providing support that at least some animals can become colonized with E. coli O157:H7. It seems reasonable to assume that infected animals can disseminate the organism into the environment, subsequently contaminating pen mates and facilities. 

There has been, to a degree, varying evidence of the primary site of E. coli O157:H7 colonization in infected animals. It was found that the colon showed the most persistence and proliferation of E. coli O157:H7. More specifically, it has been reported that the recto-anal junction of the gastrointestinal (G.I.) tract is the primary site of E. coli O157:H7 colonization. These findings contradicted those who found the rumen to be the major site of propagation. Additionally, it was previously reported that cecal contents also were contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. E. coli also has been shown to have the ability to translocate to different segments of the mesenteric lymph node complex in laboratory mouse models. 

This study was designed to identify those cattle that are persistently colonized with E. coli O157:H7 and to determine the site of colonization. In addition, animals found to be persistently colonized with E. coli O157:H7 will be compared, both microbiologically and physiologically to animals that intermittently shed and never shed the organism. Results will be used to design pre-harvest E. coli O157:H7 interventions and application parameters to reduce E. coli O157:H7 numbers and prevalence in slaughter-ready animals. 

The stated objectives for this work were: 

  1. To identify cattle persistently shedding E. coli O157:H7.
  2. To identify physiological and microbiological differences in the intestinal tract between persistently shedding cattle and controls (non-persistently shedding cattle).
  3. To identify sites, areas or locations at which pre-harvest food safety interventions should be targeted to preclude persistent shedding in finishing cattle.

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