Surveillance of Verocytotoxigenic Escherichia coli in Irish Bovine Dairy Herds

M. J. Lynch, E. M. Fox, L. O'Connor, K. Jordan, M. Murphy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Verocytotoxigenic Escherichia coli (VTEC) are highly significant zoonotic threats to public health, and have been the causative agent implicated in numerous high-profile outbreaks affecting large numbers of people. Serovar O157 is most frequently linked with human illness; however, other serovars, such as O26, O103, O111 and O145, have also been implicated. This study aimed to characterize the prevalence and virulence determinants of these five serovars in Irish dairy farm herds, and their milk. Using real-time PCR (RTi-PCR), bovine rectal faecal swabs and raw milk samples, along with milk filters, were screened for the presence of vt genes. Positive samples were then screened for the five serovars using sero-specific PCR. Serovar-positive samples were subjected to immunomagnetic separation, to isolate viable VTEC strains. These isolates were subsequently screened for four virulence factors: vt1, vt2, eaeA and hlyA. Three hundred and eighty six of the 600 rectal faecal swabs, 85 of the 117 milk-filters and 43 of the 120 bulk-tank milk samples, were positive for vt genes. From these 514 total vt-positive samples, 58 O26, 162 O103, 1 O111, 324 O145 and 26 O157 positives were detected by sero-specific RTi-PCR. Immunomagnetic separation yielded 12 O26, 26 O103, 0 O111, 19 O145 and 10 O157 isolates. Ten of these isolates contained at least one of the four virulence determinants screened for (i.e. vt1, vt2, eaeA and hlyA). Of these 10 isolates, pulsed-field gel electrophoresis showed that two of the O26 isolates from different farms were indistinguishable. Two O157 isolates were also indistinguishable. This study found serovars O103 and O145 to be the most prevalent in samples tested. Apart from the occurrence of VTEC in dairy herds, this study shows a high occurrence of vt genes in the environment, creating the possibility of horizontal gene transfer and emergence of new VTEC strains.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)264-271
Number of pages8
JournalZoonoses and Public Health
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2012
Externally publishedYes


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