Extraintestinal pathogenic Escherichia coli (ExPEC) are major players in human urinary tract infections, neonatal bacterial meningitis, and sepsis. Recently, it has been suggested that there might be a zoonotic component to these infections. To determine whether the E. coli contaminating retail poultry are possible extraintestinal pathogens, and to ascertain the source of these contaminants, they were assessed for their genetic similarities to E. coli incriminated in colibacillosis (avian pathogenic E. coli [APEC]), E. coli isolated from multiple locations of apparently healthy birds at slaughter, and human ExPEC. It was anticipated that the retail poultry isolates would most closely resemble avian fecal E. coli since only apparently healthy birds are slaughtered, and fecal contamination of carcasses is the presumed source of meat contamination. Surprisingly, this supposition proved incorrect, as the retail poultry isolates exhibited gene profiles more similar to APEC than to fecal isolates. These isolates contained a number of ExPEC-associated genes, including those associated with ColV virulence plasmids, and many belonged to the B2 phylogenetic group, known to be virulent in human hosts. Additionally, E. coli isolated from the crops and gizzards of apparently healthy birds at slaughter also contained a higher proportion of ExPEC-associated genes than did the avian fecal isolates examined. Such similarities suggest that the widely held beliefs about the sources of poultry contamination may need to be reassessed. Also, the presence of ExPEC-like clones on retail poultry meat means that we cannot yet rule out poultry as a source of ExPEC human disease.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Food Science
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
- Animal Science and Zoology