Indexed on: 07 Feb '12Published on: 07 Feb '12Published in: Applied and environmental microbiology
The objectives of this study were to investigate the presence of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) strains in wildlife that have spread in Europe, living near human settlements; to analyze their epidemiological role in maintenance and transmission to domestic livestock; and to assess the potential health risk of wildlife-carried strains. STEC strains were recovered from 53% of roe deer, 8.4% of wild boars, and 1.9% of foxes sampled in the northwest of Spain (Galicia). Of the 40 serotypes identified, 21 were classified as seropathotypes associated with human disease, accounting for 81.5% of the wildlife-carried STEC strains, including the enterohemorrhagic serotypes O157:H7-D-eae-γ1, O26:[H11]-B1-eae-β1, O121:H19-B1-eae-ε1, and O145:[H28]-D-eae-γ1. None of the wildlife-carried strains belonged to the highly pathogenic serotype O104:H4-B1 from the recent Germany outbreak. Forty percent of wildlife-carried STEC strains shared serotypes, phylogroups, intimin types, and Stx profiles with isolates from human patients from the same geographic area. Furthermore, wildlife-carried strains belonging to serotypes O5:HNM-A, O26:[H11]-B1, O76:H19-B1, O145:[H28]-D, O146:H21-B1, and O157:H7-D showed pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) profiles with >85% similarity to human-pathogenic STEC strains. We also found a high level of similarity among STEC strains of serotypes O5:HNM-A, O26:[H11]-B1, and O145:HNM-D of bovine (feces and beef) and wildlife origins. Interestingly, O146:H21-B1, the second most frequently detected serotype in this study, is commonly associated with human diarrhea and isolated from beef and vegetables sold in Galicia. Importantly, at least 3 STEC isolates from foxes (O5:HNM-A-eae-β1, O98:[H21]-B1-eae-ζ1, and O146:[H21]-B1) showed characteristics similar to those of human STEC strains. In conclusion, roe deer, wild boar, and fox in Galicia are confirmed to be carriers of STEC strains potentially pathogenic for humans and seem to play an important role in the maintenance of STEC.