Use of strain typing to provide evidence for specific interventions in the transmission of VTEC O157 infections

G. A. Willshaw*, H. R. Smith, Thomas Cheasty, S. J. O'Brien

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Transmission of verocytotoxin (VT)-producing Escherichia coli (VTEC) occurs by three main routes. These comprise food- or water-borne infections, acquisition of disease by direct or indirect contact with animals and person-to-person spread. Phenotypic typing of VTEC belonging to serogroup O157 is achieved by phage typing and identification of VT type. These properties quickly provide evidence for the linkage of human cases and their association to potential sources. DNA-based subtyping methods such as pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) are generally required to increase discrimination of VTEC O157 strains so that the spread of specific strains can be monitored. Phenotypic and DNA-based methods were used in the investigation of 85 general outbreaks of VTEC O157 infection between 1995 and 1999. Results were used in conjunction with epidemiological data to provide direct or indirect evidence for the likely route of transmission. Detailed strain fingerprinting identified specific food vehicles and reservoirs of infection in animals. Typing supported the implementation of measures to control the spread of infection that included pasteurisation orders, product withdrawal, temporary closure of retail premises and open farms and the introduction of HACCP-based working practices. In outbreaks involving widely distributed foods, DNA-based examination of apparently sporadic isolates with the same phage and VT type as outbreak strains was performed to identify additional potential outbreak cases and estimate the spread of infection. Strain typing was applied in outbreaks in nurseries and other institutions to monitor person-to-person spread, including careers and their families and to assess the involvement of community cases occurring at the same time. Rapid exchange of epidemiological, microbiological and typing data will be increasingly important in investigation of VTEC O157 outbreaks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-46
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Food Microbiology
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 21 May 2001


  • Strain typing
  • Transmission
  • VTEC O157


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