Most diagnostic approaches for Shiga toxin producing Escherichia coli (STEC) have been designed to detect only serogroup O157 that causes a majority, but not all STEC related outbreaks in the United States. Therefore, there is a need to develop methodology that would enable the detection of other STEC serogroups that cause disease. Three bacteriophages (phages) that infect STEC serogroups O26, O103, O111, O145 and O157 were chemically labeled with horseradish peroxidase (HRP). The enzyme-labeled phages (Phazymes) were individually combined with a sampling device (a swab), STEC serogroup-specific immunomagnetic separation (IMS) beads, bacterial enrichment broth and luminescent HRP substrate, in a self-contained test device, while luminescence was measured in a hand-held luminometer.
The O26 and O157 Phazyme assays correctly identified more than 93% of the bacteria tested during this study, the O123 Phazyme assay identified 89.6%, while the O111 and O145 Phazyme assays correctly detected 82.4% and 75.9%, respectively. The decreased specificity of the O111 and O145 assays was related to the broad host ranges of the phages used in both assays. The Phazyme assays were capable of directly detecting between 105 and 106 CFU/ml in pure culture, depending on the serogroup. In food trials, the O157 Phazyme assay was able to detect E. coli O157:H7 in spinach consistently at levels of 1 CFU/g and occasionally at levels of 0.1 CFU/g. The assay detected 100 CFU/100 cm2 on swabbed meat samples and 102 CFU/100 ml in water samples. The Phazyme assay effectively detects most STEC in a simple and rapid manner, with minimal need for instrumentation to interpret the test result.