The prevalence of Escherichia coli O157:H7 fecal shedding in feedlot pens is affected by the water-to-cattle ratio: A randomized controlled trial.


Escherichia coli O157:H7 fecal shedding in feedlot cattle is common and is a public health concern due to the risk of foodborne transmission that can result in severe, or even fatal, disease in people. Despite a large body of research, few practical and cost-effective farm-level interventions have been identified. In this study, a randomized controlled trial was conducted to assess the effect of reducing the level of water in automatically refilling water-troughs on fecal shedding of E. coli O157:H7 in feedlot cattle. Pens in a feedlot in the Texas Panhandle were randomly allocated as control (total number: 17) or intervention (total number: 18) pens. Fecal samples (2,759 in total) were collected both at baseline and three weeks after the intervention, and tested for the presence of E. coli O157:H7 using immunomagnetic bead separation and selective culture. There was a strong statistical association between sampling date and the likelihood of a fecal sample testing positive for E. coli O157:H7. Pen was also a strong predictor of fecal prevalence. Despite accounting for this high level of clustering, a statistically significant association between reduced water levels in the trough and increased prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in the feces was observed (Odds Ratio = 1.6; 95% Confidence Interval: 1.2-2.0; Likelihood Ratio Test: p = 0.02). This is the first time that such an association has been reported, and suggests that increasing water-trough levels may be effective in reducing shedding of E. coli O157:H7 in cattle feces, although further work would be needed to test this hypothesis. Controlling E. coli O157:H7 fecal shedding at the pre-harvest level may lead to a reduced burden of human foodborne illness attributed to this pathogen in beef.

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