Seroprevalence and Risk Factors Associated withEscherichia coliO157 in a Farming Population

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Abstract

Evidence suggests that frequent and direct exposure to domestic animals has made farmers less susceptible to symptomatic Escherichia coli O157 infection than other members of the community. We have quantified the seroprevalence of antibodies to E. coli O157 lipopolysaccharide (LPS) from a representative cohort of farm workers in three geographically distinct regions of the United Kingdom during two sampling rounds over a 2-year period. All participants completed a questionnaire to determine the range and extent of recent animal contact alongside other potential occupational and environmental exposure routes. A total of 31/946 (3.3%) serum samples contained antibodies to E. coli O157 LPS (from both rounds combined). On the second sampling round, a significant difference in seropositivity was apparent between the three regions, with enhanced seroprevalence linked to recent contact with beef cattle, having a private water supply and contact with a child under 5 years old. Only five seropositive people reported symptoms of a gastrointestinal tract infection, although these symptoms were mild. These results further support the premise of acquired immunity to E. coli O157 associated with prolonged antigenic exposures within the farming environment.

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