In 2011, one of the world’s largest outbreaks of hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS) occurred, caused by a rare Escherichia coli serotype, O104:H4, that shared the virulence profiles of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC)/enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) and enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC).
The log reduction rates of the different EHEC strains during the maturation of fermented sausages were not significantly different. Both the O157:NM and O104:H4 serotypes could be shown by qualitative enrichment to be present after 60 days of sausage storage. Moreover, the EHEC/EAEC O104:H4 strain appeared to be more viable than E. coli O157:H7 under conditions of decreased pH and in the presence of sodium nitrite. Analysis of specific EHEC strains in experiments with an EHEC inoculation cocktail showed a dominance of EHEC/EAEC O104:H4, which could be isolated from fermented sausages for 60 days. Inhibitory activities of EHEC/EAEC O104:H4 toward several E. coli strains, including serotype O157 strains, could be determined. Our study suggests that EHEC/EAEC O104:H4 is well adapted to the multiple adverse conditions occurring in fermented raw sausages. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that STEC strain cocktails composed of several serotypes, instead of E. coli O157:H7 alone, be used in food risk assessments.
The enhanced persistence of EHEC/EAEC O104:H4 as a result of its robustness, as well as the production of bacteriocins, may account for its extraordinary virulence potential.
IMPORTANCE In 2011, a severe outbreak caused by an EHEC/EAEC serovar O104:H4 strain led to many HUS sequelae. In this study, the persistence of the O104:H4 strain was compared with those of other outbreak-relevant STEC strains under conditions of fermented raw sausage production. Both O157:NM and O104:H4 strains could survive longer during the production of fermented sausages than E. coli O157:H7 strains. E. coli O104:H4 was also shown to be well adapted to the multiple adverse conditions encountered in fermented sausages, and the secretion of a bacteriocin may explain the competitive advantage of this strain in an EHEC strain cocktail.
Consequently, this study strongly suggests that enhanced survival and persistence, and the presumptive production of a bacteriocin, may explain the increased virulence of the O104:H4 outbreak strain. Furthermore, this strain appears to be capable of surviving in a meat product, suggesting that meat should not be excluded as a source of potential E. coli O104:H4 infection.
Fitness of Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC)/Enteroaggregative E. coli O104:H4 in comparison to that of EHEC O157: Survival studies in food and in vitro
Applied and Environmental Microbiology; November 2016 vol. 82 no. 21 6326-6334
Christina Böhnlein, Jan Kabisch, Diana Meske, Charles M. A. P. Franz and Rohtraud Pichner