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Genetically similar strains of Escherichia coli O157:H7 isolated from sheep, cattle and human patients

Robert Söderlund14*, Ingela Hedenström2, Anna Nilsson13, Erik Eriksson1 and Anna Aspán1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Bacteriology, National Veterinary Institute, Uppsala, 75189, Sweden

2 Swedish Institute for Communicable Disease Control, Solna, 17182, Sweden

3 Department of Clinical Sciences, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, 75651, Sweden

4 Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, 75651, Sweden

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BMC Veterinary Research 2012, 8:200  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-8-200

Published: 24 October 2012



Comparatively little is known about the prevalence or the molecular characteristics of the zoonotic pathogen E. coli O157:H7 in the sheep reservoir. To investigate this and determine the host specificity of subclones of the bacterium, we have conducted a slaughterhouse prevalence study in sheep and compared the collected isolates to O157:H7 previously isolated from cattle and human patients.


Verotoxin-producing O157:H7 was found in 11/597 (1.8%) of samples from sheep in Swedish slaughterhouses, 9/492 faecal (1.8%) and 2/105 ear samples (1.9%). All positive sheep were < 6 months old. Pulsed field gel electrophoresis typing revealed exact matches between isolates from the sheep prevalence study and human patients as well as between isolates from sheep and cattle. In one case, matching isolates were found in sheep, cattle, and a human patient in the same municipality. Identical PFGE profiles generally corresponded to similar but non-identical multi-locus VNTR profiles. In one sheep sample, SNP-typing found the highly virulent clade 8 variant of O157:H7. The virulence gene profiles of sheep isolates from the prevalence study and three sheep farms linked to cases of human illness were investigated by PCR detection (eaeA, hlyA, cdtV-B, vtx1), and partial sequencing of vtx2. The observed profiles were similar to those of cattle strains investigated previously.


The same pathogenic subtypes of VTEC O157:H7, including the highly virulent clade 8, appear to be present in both sheep and cattle in Sweden, suggesting strains can circulate freely between ruminant reservoirs.

O157:H7; VTEC; STEC; Sheep; MLVA; PFGE; Clade 8