Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli Heat-Labile Toxin Seroconversion in US Travelers to Mexico


  • Presented in part at the 44th Annual Meeting of Infectious Diseases Society of America, Toronto, Canada, October 12 to 15, 2006 (abstract 69).

Pablo C. Okhuysen, MD, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Texas Medical School at Houston, 6431 Fannin Street, MSB 2.112, Houston, TX 77030, USA. E-mail: pablo.c.okhuysen@uth.tmc.edu


Background and Aims Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC) is the most common bacterial pathogen isolated from travelers suffering of diarrhea. Exposure to heat-labile toxin (LT) produces a high rate of seroconversion. However, the role of LT-producing ETEC (LT-ETEC) as a cause of diarrhea is controversial. We conducted a cohort study in US students traveling to Mexico to assess the ETEC-LT seroconversion rate after natural exposure.

Methods Participants provided a serum sample on arrival and departure and a stool sample when ill. ETEC-LT immunoglobulin G antibodies were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, and LT-ETEC were detected by means of polymerase chain reaction done on fecal DNA.

Results A total of 422 participants with a mean age of 34.5 years were followed a mean of 19.9 days; 304 were females (72.0%), and 319 (75.6%) traveled during the summer months. In total, 177 individuals (41.9%) developed travelers’ diarrhea and 33.9% had LT-ETEC identified in their stools. Among individuals having an LT-ETEC strain, 74% seroconverted compared to 11% of those not having diarrhea (p < 0.0001). When analyzed with a logistic regression model, the odds of seroconversion were significantly reduced in participants not having LT-ETEC in their stool (odds ratio = 0.1, p < 0.0001) after adjusting for season, length of stay, age, gender, race, and ethnicity.

Conclusion In US young adults traveling to Mexico, ETEC-LT seroconversion reliably identifies individuals naturally exposed to ETEC and correlates with symptomatic illness, length and season of travel.