Feeding pets raw meat-based diets (RMBDs) is becoming increasingly popular but comes with a risk of pathogenic bacteria, including Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC). In humans, STEC may cause gastrointestinal illnesses, including diarrhea, hemorrhagic colitis (HC), and the hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). The aim of this study was to evaluate commercially available RMBDs with regard to the occurrence of STEC. Of 59 RMBD samples, 59% tested positive by real-time PCR for the presence of Shiga toxin genes stx1 and/or stx2. STECs were recovered from 41% of the 59 samples, and strains were subjected to serotyping and virulence gene profiling, using whole genome sequencing (WGS)-based methods. Of 28 strains, 29% carried stx2a or stx2d, which are linked to STEC with high pathogenic potential. Twenty different serotypes were identified, including STEC O26:H11, O91:H10, O91:H14, O145:H28, O146:H21, and O146:H28, which are within the most common non-O157 serogroups associated with human STEC-related illnesses worldwide. Considering the low infectious dose and potential severity of disease manifestations, the high occurrence of STEC in RMBDs poses an important health risk for persons handling raw pet food and persons with close contact to pets fed on RMBDs, and is of concern in the field of public health.
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