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While cattle in general have been identified as a reservoir of Escherichia coli O157:H7, there are limited data regarding the prevalence and clonality of this pathogen in downer dairy cattle and the potential impact to human health that may occur following consumption of meat derived from downer dairy cattle. In the present study, conducted at two slaughter facilities in Wisconsin between May and October of 2001, we established a higher prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in fecal and/or tissue samples obtained aseptically from intact colons of downer dairy cattle (10 of 203, 4.9%) than in those from healthy dairy cattle (3 of 201, 1.5%). Analyses of 57 isolates, representing these 13 positive samples (one to five isolates per sample), by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, revealed 13 distinct XbaI restriction endonuclease digestion profiles (REDP). Typically, isolates from different animals displayed distinct REDP and isolates from the same fecal or colon sample displayed indistinguishable REDP. However, in one sample, two different, but highly related, REDP were displayed by the isolates recovered. Antimicrobial susceptibility testing indicated that 10 of the 57 isolates, recovered from 2 (1 downer and 1 healthy animal) of the 13 positive samples, were resistant to at least 1 of 18 antimicrobials tested. However, there was no appreciable difference in the frequency of resistance of isolates recovered from downer and healthy dairy cattle, and not all isolates with the same REDP displayed the same antimicrobial susceptibility profile. Lastly, it was not possible to distinguish between isolates recovered from downer and healthy cattle based on their XbaI REDP or antimicrobial susceptibility. These results indicate that downer cattle had a 3.3-fold-higher prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 than healthy cattle within the time frame and geographic scope of this study.