Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

October 16, 2006

OVC Researchers Find Bacterium in Meat

The University of Guelph researchers who earlier this month found a dangerous bacterium in food animals now have evidence that Clostridium difficile is in ground and processed meats sold in Canada.

Preliminary findings are being presented today in France at the World Buiatrics Congress by Alex Rodriguez-Palacios, a clinical studies D.V.Sc. student at Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College.

But Guelph clinical studies professor Scott Weese, one of the study’s authors, is once again cautioning people against drawing premature conclusions.

“I want to reiterate that it’s too soon to conclude that the presence of the bacterium in meat automatically means people can become infected and develop C. difficile-associated disease through eating meat,” he said. “Finding this bacterium in meat is an important step in trying to determine whether C. difficile is a food-borne pathogen, but much more work is required to see whether there is any real risk.”

About 18 per cent of meat tested in Ontario contained the bacterium. A separate independent study by researchers at the University of Arizona found C. difficile in about 30 per cent of meat they tested. Similar research is also being done by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Food Safety and Inspection Services and National Institutes of Health.

Although the U.S. researchers found the human epidemic strain, it was not found in Ontario samples. But the majority of strains found in Ontario meat samples can cause disease in people.

C. difficile is recognized as the major cause of colitis (inflammation of the colon) and diarrhea. The bacterium is primarily acquired in hospitals and chronic-care facilities following antibiotic therapy covering a wide variety of bacteria, and is the most frequent cause of outbreaks of diarrhea in hospitalized patients. It has caused severe hospital outbreaks in Quebec and Great Britain, and in the United States alone, it causes about three million cases a year.

Earlier this month, Weese, who specializes in diseases that pass between animals and humans, his OVC colleague Henry Staempfli and Rodriguez-Palacios found the bacterium in the feces of about 11 per cent of dairy calves they tested in Ontario.

They found that the cattle strains were “indistinguishable” from those that have infected humans. Weese said there could be several explanations for this. The strains may be evolving in parallel in different species, for example, or there may be regular movement of various types of the bacterium among different species. "Further study is needed to evaluate these possibilities,” he said. Their study will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Their follow-up research looked at ground beef and ground veal that was purchased randomly from grocery stores in Guelph and tested over a period of several months. Rodriguez-Palacios is presenting preliminary findings today in France, and the full study is expected to be published in upcoming months. Weese said they plan to expand the study to include other provinces.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, Ext. 56982.

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