In Argentina, Escherichia coli O157:H7/NM (STEC O157) is the prevalent serotype associated with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which is endemic in the country with more than 400 cases per year. In order to estimate the prevalence and characteristics of STEC O157 in beef cattle at slaughter, a survey of 1,622 fecal and carcass samples was conducted in nine beef exporting abattoirs from November 2006 to April 2008. A total of 54 samples were found positive for STEC O157, with an average prevalence of 4.1% in fecal content and 2.6% in carcasses. Calves and heifers presented higher percentages of prevalence in feces, 10.5 and 8.5%, respectively. All STEC O157 isolates harbored stx2 (Shiga toxin 2), eae (intimin), ehxA (enterohemolysin), and fliCH7 (H7 flagellin) genes, while stx1 (Shiga toxin 1) was present in 16.7% of the strains. The prevalent (56%) stx genotype identified was stx2 combined with variant stx2c (vh-a), the combination of which is also prevalent (>90%) in STEC O157 post–enteric HUS cases in Argentina. The clonal relatedness of STEC O157 strains was established by phage typing and pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). The 54 STEC isolates were categorized into 12 different phage types and in 29 XbaI-PFGE patterns distributed in 27 different lots. STEC O157 strains isolated from 5 of 21 carcasses were identical by PFGE (100% similarity) to strains of the fecal content of the same or a contiguous bovine in the lot. Five phage type–PFGE–stx profiles of 10 strains isolated in this study matched with the profiles of the strains recovered from 18 of 122 HUS cases that occurred in the same period.

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