Pathogenic E. coli Infection - Damage to Intestinal Barrier and Compromised Immune Function

Pathogenic E. coli Infection - Damage to Intestinal Barrier and Compromised Immune Function

Calf diarrhea has long been considered as one of the most serious diseases in both the dairy and beef industries. A single case of calf scours is estimated to cost upwards of $50 per calf.

Bacterial diarrhea accounts for approximately 30% of calf diarrhea, and pathogenic Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the most common cause of bacterial diarrhea. In addition to damaging the intestinal lining, E. coli produces endotoxins that can lead to rapid death.

Even if calves recover from a case of scours, the damage may be lasting, and they may never perform as well as other animals that have never been infected.


Damage Caused by E. Coli Infection

Balance of intestinal flora is essential for animal health. An imbalance, or pathogenic infection, will result in many problems and even illness for the animal.

  • Diarrhea
  • Reduced Digestibility
  • Impaired Nutrient Absorption
  • Damage to the Intestinal Barrier
  • Increase in Inflammatory Factors

Newborn calves are vulnerable to pathogenic invasion as their intestinal microbiome is not stable or fully established.


Impact on Immune Function

The intestine is not just an important site for nutrient digestion and absorption but is also the largest immune organ in the body. The intestinal barrier is a complex defense system that acts as the first line of defense against pathogenic invasions. It is made up of a mechanical barrier, a chemical barrier, a microbial barrier, and an immune barrier.

During and after birth maternal and environmental microorganisms colonize the gastrointestinal tract of the calf. This community of intestinal flora regulates host digestion, metabolism, immunity, and other physiological functions.

Colonization of pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli, causes inflammation, damages the intestinal barrier, alters intestinal flora, and reduces immune function.


Recovery and Repair

Knowing more about how pathogenic E. coli damages the intestinal barrier and impairs immune function can help to better prepare us to prevent, treat, and help the animal recover from an infection. 

Prevention of bacterial invasion can be promoted by a clean environment, early administration of colostrum, and helpful probiotics to increase speed of gut colonization.

Many strains of E. Coli are now resistant to antibiotic therapy so using other means to bind and remove the pathogen may be more effective than killing the pathogen off with an antibiotic.

When we consider the damage that E. Coli does to the intestinal barrier, we can speed recovery by nutritionally providing compounds that will help to rebuild the intestinal cells, restore the mucosal lining, outcompete pathogenic species, and modulate immune function.  


Check out the Calf Distinction Store for more information on our calf products formulated to support healthy gut colonization, pathogen reduction, and immune modulation.

Birth: Sync Products

Pathogen Control: Surveillance Calf


Written by: Mariah Gull, M.S.



He, et. Al. 2022. Effect of Early Pathogenic Escherichia coli Infectino on the Intestinal Barrier and Immune Function in Newborn Calves. Fronteirs in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, vol. 12   fcimb-12-818276 (003).pdf

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