Subtyping Escherichia coli Virulence Genes Isolated from Feces of Beef Cattle and Clinical Cases in Alberta.
Escherichia coli O157:H7 is, to date, the major E. coli serotype causing food-borne human disease worldwide. Strains of O157 with other H antigens also have been recovered. We analyzed a collection of historic O157 strains (n = 400) isolated in the late 1980s to early 1990s in the United States. Strains were predominantly serotype O157:H7 (55%), and various O157:non-H7 (41%) serotypes were not previously reported regarding their pathogenic potential. Although lacking Shiga toxin (stx) and eae genes, serotypes O157:H1, O157:H2, O157:H11, O157:H42, and O157:H43 carried several virulence factors (iha, terD, and hlyA) also found in virulent serotype E. coli O157:H7. Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) showed the O157 serogroup was diverse, with strains with the same H type clustering together closely. Among non-H7 isolates, serotype O157:H43 was highly prevalent (65%) and carried important enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) virulence markers (iha, terD, hlyA, and espP). Isolates from two particular H types, H2 and H11, among the most commonly found non-O157 EHEC serotypes (O26:H11, O111:H11, O103:H2/H11, and O45:H2), unexpectedly clustered more closely with O157:H7 than other H types and carried several virulence genes. This suggests an early divergence of the O157 serogroup to clades with different pathogenic potentials. The appearance of important EHEC virulence markers in closely related H types suggests their virulence potential and suggests further monitoring of those serotypes not implicated in severe illness thus far.