RESEARCH HAS revealed that Scotland continues to have the highest levels of E.coli 0157 infection in the UK.

A new report published by Food Standards Scotland and the Food Standards Agency highlights the four-year research project undertaken by scientists from the Roslin Institute, the Moredun Research Institute and Scotland’s Rural College into the bacterium’s presence in cattle.

Part of the programme was based on surveys of the prevalence of E.coli O157 in faecal pats across 110 farms in Scotland and 160 in England and Wales, completed between September 2014 and November 2015. This was the first study of E. coli O157 to be conducted contemporaneously across Great Britain, enabling comparison between the three countries.

Although the overall prevalence of E. coli O157 in cattle is similar across Great Britain, cattle in Scotland were found to have a higher level of a subtype of E. coli O157 ­– PT21/28 ­– which is associated with ‘super-shedding’ in cattle – the passing of large volumes of the bacteria in faeces.

As this subtype is also known to cause more severe human infection, it has been suggested that local exposure to this could be a potential factor for the rates of human E. coli O157 infection in Scotland being around three times higher than in England and Wales.

FSS head of food protection science and surveillance, Dr Jacqui McElhiney, said: “Scotland has historically had the highest levels of E. coli O157 infection in the UK and, despite our best efforts, the number of people affected has remained stubbornly stable. This research has shed some light on the possible reasons for this,” she said.

The research also trialled a vaccine to limit E. coli O157 excretion from and transmission between cattle. Results indicated that it may be effective in reducing human exposure.