This study was designed to determine the prevalence of Escherichia coli O157:H7 infection of beef calves at weaning, prior to arrival at the feedlot or mixing with cattle from other sources. Fifteen range cow-calf herds, which weaned calves in October and November, were sampled in Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska and South Dakota. Faecal culture for E. coli O157:H7 was performed and anti-O157 serum antibody titres were determined by blocking ELISA. Thirteen of the 15 herds (87%) were found to have at least one positive isolation of E. coli O157:H7 in faecal samples. Within positive herds, prevalence ranged from 1·7–20·0%, with an average of 7·4±6·2% s.d. of individual animals shedding E. coli O157:H7 in faeces. All herds had high prevalence of anti-O157 antibodies, ranging 63–100% of individuals within herds seropositive. This study indicates that E. coli O157:H7 infection before weaning, prior to entry into feedlots, is widespread. Furthermore, serologic evidence suggests that most calves (83%) and all herds (100%) have been exposed to E. coli O157.
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