By American Society for Microbiology, [RxPG] A new study suggests that slugs have the potential to transmit E. coli to salad vegetables. Researchers from the University of Aberdeen, United Kingdom, report their findings in the January 2006 issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
Escherichia coli O157, an emerging zoonoses in many countries including the U.S. and U.K., has a 3 to 5 percent mortality rate in humans. Farm animals such as cattle and sheep have been previously identified as major reservoirs of this strain of E. coli by passing it through manure which is then used to fertilize crops. Slugs are widespread agricultural pests that continuously ingest bacteria from the soil and their environment. Their tendency to contaminate leafy vegetables often targeted for human consumption identifies them as likely source for E. coli transmission.
Laboratory testing found E. coli O157 in 0.21 % of field slugs on a sheep farm in the UK. Further studies revealed that the slug species, Deroceras reticulatum, could maintain viable E. coli on its external surface for 14 days and slugs that were fed E. coli shed viable bacteria in their feces persisting for up to 3 weeks.
"This study provides evidence that slugs can act as vectors of E. coli O157 from an environmental source to fruit or vegetables," say the researchers. "The research demonstrates that E. coli in D. reticulatum has a relatively long external and internal survival time and also shows that ability of E. coli to persist at length in excreted slug feces."
E.L. Sproston, M. Macrae, I.D. Ogden, M.J. Wilson, N.J.C. Strachan. 2006. Slugs: potential novel vectors of Escherichia coli O157. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 72. 1: 144-149
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