Several outbreaks of Escherichia coli O157 have been reported in petting zoos, resulting in hospitalization of many children. At present, no standard procedure has been adopted to monitor the presence of enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) or Shiga-toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) in petting zoo animals. Direct detection of these strains from rectal swabs of animals in petting zoos was developed and obviated the need to culture the organisms. DNA extracted from bacteria in the swabs was tested for the presence of wecA gene specific for E. coli by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The wecA positive samples were further tested for Shiga-toxin genes stx1 and stx2, and the intimin eae by multiplex PCR and for the presence of O157 and H7. Swabs (n = 104) from 15 animal species in a petting zoo were tested; 7 goats and 3 cows were found to carry STEC. The method is rapid and convenient for monitoring potentially pathogenic E. coli in petting zoo animals.
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