Regional differences in presence of shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli virulence-associated genes in the environment in the North West and East Anglian regions of England

Erica Kintz, Nicola J Williams, Natalia Jones, Mike van der Es, Iain R Lake, Sarah J O'Brien, Paul R Hunter

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Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli is carried in the intestine of ruminant animals, and outbreaks have occurred after contact with ruminant animals or their environment. The presence of STEC virulence genes in the environment was investigated along recreational walking paths in the North West and East Anglia regions of England. In all, 720 boot sock samples from walkers’ shoes were collected between April 2013 and July 2014. Multiplex PCR was used to detect E. coli based on the amplification of the uidA gene and investigate STEC-associated virulence genes eaeA, stx1 and stx2. The eaeA virulence gene was detected in 45·5% of the samples, where stx1 and/or stx2 was detected in 12·4% of samples. There was a difference between the two regions sampled, with the North West exhibiting a higher proportion of positive boot socks for stx compared to East Anglia. In univariate analysis, ground conditions, river flow and temperature were associated with positive boot socks. The detection of stx genes in the soil samples suggests that STEC is present in the English countryside and individuals may be at risk for infection after outdoor activities even if there is no direct contact with animals. Significance and Impact of the Study: Several outbreaks within the UK have highlighted the danger of contracting Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli from contact with areas recently vacated by livestock. This is more likely to occur for STEC infections compared to other zoonotic bacteria given the low infectious dose required. While studies have determined the prevalence of STEC within farms and petting zoos, determining the risk to individuals enjoying recreational outdoor activities that occur near where livestock may be present is less researched. This study describes the prevalence with which stx genes, indicative of STEC bacteria, were found in the environment in the English countryside.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-186
Number of pages8
JournalLetters in Applied Microbiology
Issue number2
Early online date25 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


  • Shiga toxin-producing E. coli
  • boot socks
  • environmental sampling
  • multiplex PCR
  • transmission routes (6)
  • virulence genes

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