Multiple-locus variable-nucleotide tandem repeat subtype analysis implicates European starlings as biological vectors for Escherichia coli O157:H7 in Ohio, USA.
Aims: To provide molecular epidemiological evidence of avian transmission of Escherichia coli O157:H7 between dairy farms in Ohio, this study was designed to identify genetic relatedness between isolates originating from bovine faecal samples and intestinal contents of European starlings captured on these farms. Methods and Results: During a three-year period (2007-2009), cattle (n=9000) and starlings (n=430) on 150 different dairy farms in northern Ohio were sampled for the presence of E. coli O157:H7. Isolates were subjected to multiple-locus variable-nucleotide tandem repeat analysis (MLVA). Distinct allelic groups were identified on most farms; however, isolates clustering into three MLVA groups originated from both cattle and birds on different farms. Conclusions: Sharing of indistinguishable epidemiologically linked E. coli O157 MLVA subtypes between starlings and cattle on different farms supports the hypothesis that these birds contribute to the transmission of E. coli O157:H7 between dairy farms. Significance and Impact of Study: A continued need exists to identify and to improve preharvest measures for controlling E. coli O157:H7. Controlling wildlife intrusion, particularly European starlings, on livestock operations, may be an important strategy for reducing dissemination of E. coli O157:H7 between farms and thereby potentially decreasing the on-farm prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 and enhancing the safety of the food supply.