Virulence genotypes and serotypes of verotoxigenic Escherichia coli isolated from cattle and foods in Argentina: Importance in public health

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Virulence factors of Verotoxin-producing Escherichia coli (VTEC) strains isolated from hamburgers and ground beef were studied in Argentina by PCR. Their virulence profiles were correlated with those corresponding to strains isolated from calves and adult cattle. Most virulent profiles (VTs+eae+ Mp+) were present in E. coli from healthy and diarrheic calves corresponding to O5:H-, O5:H27, O20:H?, O26:H11, O38:H?, O103:H-, O103:H2, O111:H-, O118:H16, O165:H-serotypes. The presence of the eae gene was significantly more frequent among VTEC strains isolated from calves (20/26; 76%) than from adult cattle (1/39; 2.5%) (p < 0.005). VT2+eaeE. coli was prevalent in foods and adult cattle at slaughterhouse. The prevalence of the eae gene was similar between VTEC strains isolated from meat (0/21) and adult cattle (1/39; 2.5%) which constitutes the main population processed at slaughterhouses in Argentina. Serotyping showed that VTEC strains were distributed among 31 serotypes, some of which (O20:H19, O91:H21, O113:H21, O116:H21, O117:H7, O171:H2, OX3:H21) were shared between bovine and food strains. These O serogroups have been isolated from cases of haemorrhagic colitis (HC) and haemolytic-uraemic syndrome (HUS) in humans in several continental European countries. This study confirms the role of cattle as a reservoir of many VTEC serotypes other than O157:H7 and represents a base for future diagnostic, prevention and control strategies of EHEC in this country. In addition, this study affirms the advantages of PCR-based screening of E. coli isolates given the finding of so many verotoxin-producing strains.

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