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  • 1 Hungarian Academy of Sciences Institute for Veterinary Medical Research, Centre for Agricultural Research Hungária krt. 21 H-1143 Budapest Hungary
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Enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (EPEC) bacteria frequently cause severe enteric diseases primarily in children and in young rabbits. Their pathogenicity for pigs has been tested by oral infection of colostrum-deprived newborn, and of severely immunosuppressed weaned pigs, but colonisation of conventional weaned pigs by porcine EPEC has not been experimentally studied. EPEC show similarities to enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) additionally carrying shiga toxin genes integrated into the chromosome by lambdoid phages. We have demonstrated earlier that the porcine EPEC prototype strain P86-1390 (O45) could be transduced in vivo (in ligated loops of weaned pigs), by Stx2 phage derived from a human EHEC. Thus, the ability of this porcine EPEC strain to colonise conventional weaned pigs under farming conditions became a question of relevance to human health. To clarify this question, four intragastric infection experiments were performed on a total of 95 conventional weaned pigs. The EPEC P86-1390 and other well-characterised porcine EPEC strains were applied to 54 pigs, leaving 41 weaned pigs as negative controls. In three experiments moderate predispositions were applied: coinfections with enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC) or with low-virulence TGE coronavirus, application of fumonisin B1 with a normal therapeutic dose of dexamethasone, and the increase of soybean protein concentration in the feed. A total of 41 weaned pigs served as negative controls inoculated with a commensal porcine E. coli. Housing conditions simulated the farm environment. As an overall result, ileal segments of 18.5% of infected pigs were shown to be colonised by EPEC, while no EPEC were detected in the ilea of controls. Among predisposing factors occurring on farms, feed protein content increased by 20% (26.3% crude protein, provided by 48% soybean meal) seemed to enhance EPEC colonisation and resulted in the mobilisation of spontaneous latent EPEC/ETEC infection. The results indicate that under normal farm conditions porcine EPEC may colonise conventional weaned pigs by inducing ileal attaching effacing (AE) lesions with reasonable frequency, without clinical signs. The results also suggest that conventional weaned pigs may represent undetected reservoirs of porcine EPEC, potentially giving rise to the emergence of new types of EHEC due to natural transduction by Stx phages.

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