The purpose of this study was to investigate carriage and transfer of verocytotoxigenic Escherichia coli (VTEC) O157, O26, O111, O103 and O145 from faeces and hide to dressed carcasses of Irish cattle as well as establishing the virulence potential of VTEC carried by these cattle. Individual cattle was tracked and faecal samples,hide and carcass (pre-evisceration and post-wash) swabs were analysed for verotoxin (vt1 and vt2) genes using a duplex real-time PCR assay. Positive samples were screened for the five serogroups of interest by real-time PCR. Isolates were recovered from PCR positive samples using immunomagnetic separation and confirmed by latex agglutination and PCR. Isolates were subject to a virulence screen (vt1, vt2, eaeA and hlyA) by PCR. Isolates carrying vt genes were examined by Pulsed-Field Gel Electrophoresis (PFGE). Of theVTEC isolated, E. coli O157 was the most frequently recovered from hide (17.6%), faeces (2.3%) and pre-evisceration/post-wash carcass (0.7%) samples. VTEC O26 was isolated from 0.2% of hide swabs and 1.5% of faeces samples. VTEC O145 was isolated from 0.7% of faeces samples. VTEC O26 and VTEC O145 were not recovered from carcass swabs. Non-VTEC O103 was recovered from all sample types (27.1% hide, 8.5% faeces, 5.5% pre-evisceration carcass, 2.2% post-wash carcass), with 0.2% of hide swabs and 1.0% of faeces samples found to be positive for VTEC O103 isolates. E. coli O111 was not detected in any samples. For the four serogroups recovered, the direct transfer from hide to carcass was not observed. This study shows that while VTEC O157 are being carried by cattle presented for slaughter in Ireland, a number of other verotoxin producing strains are beginning to emerge.
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