European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) challenged with Escherichia coli O157 can carry and transmit the human pathogen to cattle.
Aims: European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) are an invasive species in the United States and are considered a nuisance pest to agriculture. The goal of this study was to determine the potential for these birds to be reservoirs and/or vectors for the human pathogen Escherichia coli O157:H7. Materials and Results: Under biosecurity confinement, starlings were challenged with various doses of E. coli O157:H7 to determine a minimum infectious dose, the magnitude and duration of pathogen shedding, and the potential of pathogen transmission among starlings and between starlings and cattle. Birds transiently excreted E. coli O157:H7 following low-dose inoculation; however, exposure to greater than 105.5 colony-forming units (CFUs) resulted in shedding for more than 3 days in 50% of the birds. Colonized birds typically excreted greater than 103 CFU g-1 of faeces, and the pathogen was detected for as long as 14 days postinoculation. Cohabitating E. coli O157:H7-positive starlings with culture-negative birds or 12-week-old calves resulted in intra- and interspecies pathogen transmission within 24 h. Likewise, E. coli O157:H7 was recovered from previously culture-negative starlings following 24-h cohabitation with calves shedding E. coli O157:H7. Conclusions: European starlings may be a suitable reservoir and vector of E. coli O157:H7. Significance and Impact of the Study: Given the duration and magnitude of E. coli O157:H7 shedding by European starlings, European starlings should be considered a public health hazard. Measures aimed at controlling environmental contamination with starling excrement, on the farm and in public venues, may decrease food-producing animal and human exposure to this pathogen.