Research – Study could explain higher rates of human E. coli infection in Scotland

The Roslin Institute ecoli

A subtype of E. coli O157 found in cattle may be responsible for higher rates of severe human infection in Scotland, report suggests.

E. coli O157 is a bacterium carried by cattle, which can cause life-threatening human infections when it enters the food chain. Scientists found that cattle in Scotland have a higher level of a subtype of E. coli O157 – PT21/28, which is known to cause more severe human infection.

It may be that local exposure to this particular subtype is a potential factor for the rates of people infected by E. coli O157 in Scotland being around three times higher than in England and Wales.

Causes of E. coli outbreaks

Researchers used Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) to define which specific subtypes of E. coli caused an outbreak. For example, data obtained from WGS helped to understand whether a human infection is likely to have arisen from local farm animals or by a strain present in imported food or as a consequence of travel abroad.

The team have also combined WGS data with machine learning to predict which subtypes of  E. coli O157 pose the greatest threat to human health.

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