Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli (STEC) are major foodborne human pathogens that cause mild to hemorrhagic colitis, which could lead to complications of hemolytic uremic syndrome. Seven serogroups, O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, O145, and O157, account for the majority of the STEC illnesses in the United States. Shiga toxins 1 and 2, encoded by stx1 and stx2, respectively, and intimin, encoded by eae gene, are major virulence factors. Cattle are a major reservoir of STEC, but swine also harbor them in the hindgut and shed STEC in the feces. Our objectives were to use a culture method to isolate and identify major and minor serogroups of STEC in finisher pig feces. Shiga toxin genes were subtyped to assess public health implications of STEC. Fecal samples (n = 598) from finisher pigs, collected from 10 pig flows, were enriched in E. coli broth and tested for stx1, stx2, and eae by a multiplex PCR (mPCR) assay. Samples positive for stx1 or stx2 gene were subjected to culture methods, with or without immunomagnetic separation and plating on selective or nonselective media, for isolation and identification of stx-positive isolates. The culture method yielded a total of 178 isolates belonging to 23 serogroups. The three predominant serogroups were O8, O86, and O121. The 178 STEC strains included 26 strains with stx1a and 152 strains with stx2e subtypes. Strains with stx1a, particularly in association with eae (O26 and O103), have the potential to cause severe human infections. All stx2-positive isolates carried the subtype stx2e, a subtype that causes edema disease in swine, but is rarely involved in human infections. Several strains were also positive for genes that encode for enterotoxins, which are involved in neonatal and postweaning diarrhea in swine. In conclusion, our study showed that healthy finisher pigs harbored and shed several serogroups of E. coli carrying virulence genes involved in neonatal diarrhea, postweaning diarrhea, and edema disease, but prevalence of STEC of public health importance was low.
Swine harbor Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli (STEC) and shed them in the feces.
Swine STEC could be a source of foodborne infections in humans.
Culture method identified major and minor serogroups of STEC.
Major serogroups of STEC included O8, O86, and O121.
A majority of the STEC possessed Shiga toxin 2e, which is not a major public threat.