To characterize a number of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) isolates from sheep and to discuss the potential of these isolates as human pathogens.
Twelve different O-groups and seven different H-types were identified by standard serotyping methods. The most common serotypes were O5:NM, O6:H10, O91:NM and O128:NM. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was used for the detection of virulence factor genes. Of 102 isolates, 86.3% carried stx1 and 83% of these were also positive in the stx1OX3-specific PCR. stx2 was carried by 55.9% of the isolates and 77.2% of these were also positive in the stx2d-specific PCR. The Vero cell assay showed high toxin production in 70.6% of the isolates. None of the isolates carried eae.
The study supports the animal-host relationship suggested in other studies with STEC serogroups O5, O91 and O128 strongly associated with sheep. Most sheep STEC carry stx1OX3 (except O91) and the dominating stx2 variant is stx2d. One stx profile clearly dominates within a serotype.
In spite of the predominance of certain sheep-associated STEC, sheep cannot be excluded as carriers of human pathogenic STEC.