• ESBL-containing EPEC strains;
  • rabbits;
  • antibiotic resistance;
  • genetic characterization


A total of 52 Escherichia coli strains isolated from diarrhoeic rabbits were investigated for their enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC) pathotype by PCR amplification of eae and bfp virulence genes. A total of 22 EPEC isolates were identified, serotyped and studied for antibiotic resistance and screened for the detection of extended-spectrum β-lactamases (ESBLs). The EPEC isolates belonged to three serogroups (O26, O92 and O103). The most common serogroup (O103:K-:H2) was observed among 17 EPEC strains, the O92:K-serogroup in three isolates (the antibiotic sensitive ones) and the remaining O26:K-serogroup in two isolates (the ESBLs isolates). Resistances to ampicillin and tetracycline were the most frequent and detected followed by resistance to nalidixic acid, streptomycin, trimethoprim–sulphamethoxazole, cefoxitin, gentamicin and ciprofloxacin. All the isolates were sensitive for amikacin, ceftazidime, aztreonam, imipenem, chloramphenicol, tobramycin and amoxicillin + clavulanic acid. Two isolates recovered from two adult animals showed an intermediate susceptibility to cefotaxime, and a positive screening test for ESBL was demonstrated in both. The blaTEM gene was demonstrated in the majority of ampicillin-resistant isolates. The aac(3)-II or aac(3)-IV genes were detected in the four gentamicin-resistant isolates. In addition, the aadA gene was detected in 60% of streptomycin-resistant isolates. The tet(A) or tet(B) genes were identified in all tetracycline-resistant isolates. A total of nine EPEC isolates showed the phenotype SXT-resistant, and the sul1 and/or sul2 and/or sul3 genes were detected in all of them. Our findings showed that the molecular detection by the eae and bfp genes by PCR followed by serotyping is useful for monitoring trends in EPEC infections of rabbits allowing the identification of their possible reservoirs. The detection of genes involved in the resistance to antibiotics of different families in a relatively high proportion of faecal E. coli isolates of rabbits is of great interest and could be considered a serious public health problem.