Scientists from Scotland’s Rural College are inviting farmers’ help for a GB wide dung sample survey investigating the prevalence of E. coli O157 infection amongst cattle destined for the food chain.

The survey, to be carried out by SRUC and ADAS, is part of a much larger study, funded by the Food Standards Agency and led by the University of Edinburgh.

E. coli O157 is an important threat to humans. While not the most common food-borne illness it has been the cause of many outbreaks, several of which have led to the deaths of vulnerable people and kidney damage in others. The bacteria are commonly carried by animals, particularly ruminants like cattle and sheep. They usually show no ill effects but sporadically will pass the infection on in their dung. Humans are at risk when they come into contact with surfaces, or items, contaminated with infected dung.

The initial purpose of the confidential survey is to help SRUC epidemiologists update their understanding of how widespread E. coli O157 infection is on farms in England, Scotland and Wales in cattle being finished for slaughter. The sampling will be carried out by staff from SRUC and ADAS Ltd.

“We have written to eligible farmers and will be phoning them over the next year to invite them to take part in the confidential survey”, says Dr Sue Tongue, Senior Veterinary Epidemiologist with SRUC in Inverness. “We need to visit 110 farms in Scotland and 160 in England and Wales. It should not involve them in too much disruption. The samples will be collected from dung pats on either pasture or in buildings. How many will depend on the number of cattle being kept. We won’t need to handle their livestock to collect the samples.”
According to Sue Tongue the farmers will also be asked to complete a questionnaire.

“It asks simple questions about the way they manage their cattle. It should take no more than 40 minutes and can be completed at the time by the sampler.”
In Scotland the target population will be randomly chosen from farms that took part in two similar surveys between 1998 and 2004. This will allow researchers to compare the results and any changes that may have occurred.

Once the initial tests are complete any positive samples will be sent for examination at a specialist laboratory, where more complex investigations can be made. The aim of the whole programme is to improve our understanding of the types of E. coli O157 that are out there and how that relates to human illness. It will help in the development of strategies to reduce the human health risk of E. coli O157.

For more information on the sampling survey contact Madeleine Henry in Inverness on 01463 246072, [email protected] .
Further information on the project can be found on the FSA website at http://www.food.gov.uk/science/research/foodborneillness/ecoliresearch/fs101055/

Latest Articles