Major research project looks at immunity to E.coli 0157

Source of Article:

20 January, 2009

By Barry Alston

A major new research project has been launched at Bangor University to investigate the immunity levels of farmers and abattoir workers to E. coli O157 in a bid to gain a better understanding of the potentially deadly infection.

Some 50 livestock farmers and slaughterhouse employees from Wales 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 Wales will be tested alongside farmers and abattoir workers from the Grampian region in Scotland and their immunity compared with that in members of the public from both areas.

It is hoped the results will provide a better understanding of E. coli O157 and how some individuals resist the infection which strikes around 1,000 people in the UK annually.

It may also help explain why the incidence of human E. coli O157 infection is so low in Wales compared to the Grampian region, which has one of the world’s highest rates of the infection.

The study is part of a three year rural economy and land use project bringing together researchers from across the UK, including Bangor, Aberdeen, Manchester, and London Universities.

“This particular strand will investigate why livestock farmers and abattoir employees are largely unaffected,” says Dr Prysor Williams, from the School of the Environment and Natural Resources, at Bangor University.

“Considering 10-40 per cent of cattle herds in the UK have E. coli O157 it is surprising 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. That will indicate whether that person has had E. coli O157 in the past.

“We will also test stool samples to see if people are carrying the bug without it actually affecting them, which would suggest they possess a degree of immunity.

“Over 100 farmers from Wales and the North East of Scotland will be tested alongside 200 members of the public for comparison.

“We would also like to hear from people who have 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 should contact Dr Prysor Williams on 01248 382 637 or by email at



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