Operons of the afa family are expressed by pathogenic Escherichia coli strains associated with intestinal and extraintestinal infections in humans and animals. The recently demonstrated heterogeneity of these operons (L. Lalioui, M. Jouve, P. Gounon, and C. Le Bouguénec, Infect. Immun. 67:5048-5059, 1999) was used to develop a new PCR assay for detecting all the operons of the afa family with a single genetic tool. This PCR approach was validated by investigating three collections of human E. coli isolates originating from the stools of infants with diarrhea (88 strains), the urine of patients with pyelonephritis (97 strains), and the blood of cancer patients (115 strains). The results obtained with this single test and those previously obtained with several PCR assays were closely correlated. The AfaE adhesins encoded by the afa operons are variable, particularly with respect to the primary sequence encoded by the afaE gene. The receptor binding specificities have not been determined for all of these adhesins; some recognize the Dr blood group antigen (Afa/Dr(+) adhesins) on the human decay-accelerating factor (DAF) as a receptor, and others (Afa/Dr(-) adhesins) do not. Thus, the afa operons detected in this study were characterized by subtyping the afaE gene using specific PCRs. In addition, the DAF-binding capacities of as-yet-uncharacterized AfaE adhesins were tested by various cellular approaches. The afaE8 subtype (Afa/Dr(-) adhesin) was found to predominate in afa-positive isolates from sepsis patients (75%); it was frequent in afa-positive pyelonephritis E. coli (55.5%) and absent from diarrhea-associated strains. In contrast, Afa/Dr(+) strains (regardless of the afaE subtype) were associated with both diarrhea (100%) and extraintestinal infections (44 and 25% in afa-positive pyelonephritis and sepsis strains, respectively). These data suggest that there is an association between the subtype of AfaE adhesin and the physiological site of the infection caused by afa-positive strains.