Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) are foodborne bacterial pathogens, with cattle a significant reservoir for human infection. This study evaluated environmental reservoirs, intermediate hosts and key pathways that could drive the presence of Top 7 STEC (O157:H7, O26, O45, O103, O111, O121 and O145) on pasture-based dairy herds, using molecular and culture-based methods. A total of 235 composite environmental samples (including soil, bedding, pasture, stock drinking water, bird droppings and flies and faecal samples of dairy animals) were collected from two dairy farms, with four sampling events on each farm. Molecular detection revealed O26, O45, O103 and O121 as the most common O-serogroups, with the greatest occurrence in dairy animal faeces (> 91%), environments freshly contaminated with faeces (> 73%) and birds and flies (> 71%). STEC (79 isolates) were a minor population within the target O-serogroups in all sample types but were widespread in the farm environment in the summer samplings. Phylogenetic analysis of whole genome sequence data targeting single nucleotide polymorphisms revealed the presence of several clonal strains on a farm; a single STEC clonal strain could be found in several sample types concurrently, indicating the existence of more than one possible route for transmission to dairy animals and a high rate of transmission of STEC between dairy animals and wildlife. Overall, the findings improved the understanding of the ecology of the Top 7 STEC in open farm environments, which is required to develop on-farm intervention strategies controlling these zoonoses.
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