Epidemiology of Bacterial Food-borne Pathogens: Linking Intermittent Pathogen Shedding and Transmission in Their Animal Hosts



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Most bacterial foodborne pathogens are shed intermittently from their animal hosts and are able to grow and persist in the environment. Cattle and pigs constitute the major animal reservoirs for these pathogens. The overall objective of this dissertation research was to improve understanding of the role of intermittent shedding and environmental persistence in the transmission and maintenance of Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella Typhimurium in their animal host populations. This objective was addressed through five interdepended studies.

The study in Chapter II, describes the transmission of E. coli O157:H7 in a dairy herd using mathematical modeling that includes indirect transmission from the contaminated environment. The model predicts that the elevated ambient temperature during summer, together with the availability of large amount of drinking water per cattle, are the major factors for increased pathogen load in water and high prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in cattle populations. The second study, in Chapter III, determined the variation in water-to-cattle ratios among feedlot pens and evaluated the association with the pen level management and environmental factors. Water-to-cattle ratio was found to vary greatly between feedlots and pens with lower water-to-cattle ratios on average had cooler drinking water. The study in Chapter IV, used a compartmental mathematical model of infection transmission, to evaluate the effect of cleaning on Salmonella Typhimurium control in a grower-finisher pig herd. Cleaning alone was not found to be an effective measure of control unless combined with other measures to reduce the level of bacterial shedding. The study in Chapter V, developed the multi-state Markov chain model to describe the fecal shedding pattern of three E. coli O157:H7 strains in cattle. One strain was not detected to shed, while the other two strains had on average different durations of host colonization, albeit not at the statistically significant level. The study in Chapter VI, used an experimental infection transmission approach to estimate and compare transmission rates for three different strains of E. coli O157:H7 in steers. The results revealed that the transmission rate of E. coli O157:H7 increases significantly with increasing levels of environmental contamination.

Collectively, the five studies have highlighted the role of these pathogen characteristics in their transmission. The improved understanding of these characteristics will allow for better design of control measure to ensure food safety.