E.coli O157 & Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome

E.coli O157 study to test immunity levels

26th January 2009

New research into the immunity levels of farmers and abattoir workers to E. coli O157 has been launched in a bid to gain a better understanding of the potentially deadly infection.

Fifty livestock farmers and slaughterhouse employees from North East Scotland are wanted for the study which will test the theory that continuous and frequent exposure to the bug makes someone more immune to infection.

Volunteers from the Grampian region - which has one of the world's highest rates of the infection - will be tested alongside farmers and abattoir workers from Wales and compared with immunity in members of the public from both areas.

It is hoped the research results will provide a better understanding of E. coli O157 and how individuals resist the infection which strikes around 50 people in Grampian annually , out of a population of approximately half a million.

The study is part of a three year Rural Economy and Land Use (RELU) project: 'Reducing E. coli O157 risk in rural communities' which brings together a large team of researchers from across the UK including Bangor, Manchester, and London Universities led by Professor Ken Killham, Chair of Soil Science at the University of Aberdeen.

Gathering crucial findings from disciplines including geography, economics, immunology and soil science, the RELU project will develop scientific models for UK authorities to assess and manage the risk of the bug in rural communities.

Dr Colette Jones from the School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen said: "This particular strand of the RELU study will investigate why livestock farmers and abattoir employees appear unaffected by E. coli O157.

"Considering 10-40% of cattle herds in the UK have E. coli O157it is surprising that we do not see employees from these sectors routinely struck down by the bug.  This could suggest that the more often you are exposed to the bug, the greater your immunity or your ability to deal with the infection. 

"Our study will examine this thinking by testing for antibodies in blood and saliva.  The antibodies will indicate to us whether that person has had E. coli O157 in the past.  We will also test stool samples for E. coli O157 to see if people have the bug in their faeces without it actually affecting them, which would suggest. they possess a degree of immunity.

"Over 100 farmers from the North East of Scotland and Wales will be tested alongside 200 members of the public for comparison. We'd also be very interested and very grateful to hear from people who've been infected with E. coli O157 in the past. This will allow us to build a picture of how antibody levels and associated immunity decrease with time."

Anyone interested in taking part in the study should contact Dr Colette Jones on 01224 272370 or by email at for further information.

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