Emerging foodborne pathogens: Escherichia coli O157:H7 as a model of entry of a new pathogen into the food supply of the developed world

Epidemiol Rev. 1996;18(1):29-51. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.epirev.a017914.


There would appear to be little argument that the large outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 which have occurred since the early 1980s represent a distinct, new phenomenon. The number of reported cases have increased dramatically, starting from zero in 1981; however, it is also clear that this increase in reported cases is in part an artifact of improved surveillance and reporting. Available data suggest that E. coli O157:H7 infections were present prior to 1982, although numbers appear to have been small. At a molecular level, the organism shows evidence of clonal origin, but there is not the striking clonality, with virtually identical pulsed-field gel electrophoresis and ribotyping patterns, which has been seen in situations such as the emergence of Vibrio cholerae O139 Bengal in the Indian subcontinent in 1992 or the introduction of V. cholerae O1 into naïve populations in South America in 1991 (127-129). Findings are more consistent with the image of an organism which arose from a common ancestor, but which has had time to become distributed geographically and to show some evidence of genetic divergence. While this is an "emerging" infection, at least in terms of its distribution and public recognition, it is unlikely that it will be possible to identify the "first" O157:H7 case or to track the clonal spread of the organism through cattle or human populations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Domestic
  • Cattle
  • Developed Countries*
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Disease Reservoirs / statistics & numerical data
  • Disease Reservoirs / veterinary
  • Escherichia coli Infections / epidemiology*
  • Escherichia coli Infections / transmission
  • Escherichia coli Infections / veterinary
  • Escherichia coli O157* / growth & development
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Food Microbiology*
  • Food Supply*
  • Food-Processing Industry / methods
  • Food-Processing Industry / trends
  • Humans
  • Meat / microbiology
  • Meat / supply & distribution
  • Models, Biological*
  • North America / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Western World