A total of 174 strains of Escherichia coli serotype O157:H7 representing human isolates obtained from outbreaks and sporadic cases of hemorrhagic colitis, hemolytic-uremic syndrome, and nonbloody diarrheal illnesses as well as from asymptomatic carriers across Canada and the United States were examined. E. coli serotype O157:H7 possessed distinct biochemical markers, a 100% negative reaction for beta-glucuronidase and sorbitol, and a 100% positive reaction for raffinose and dulcitol; all strains otherwise were biochemically typical of E. coli. The vast majority (97%) of the strains were susceptible to commonly used antimicrobial agents. All strains produced readily detectable levels of Verotoxin; however, with polymyxin extraction, nearly 50% of the strains showed up to a 10-fold increase in the toxin level. None were found to mediate hemagglutination of human group A erythrocytes with or without D-mannose. The majority (approximately 70%) of the strains showed localized and diffuse adherence to HEp-2 cells and Henle 407 cells, and the adherence patterns were not very different from those observed among other E. coli strains. Twenty phage types were recognized, with phage types 1 and 2 accounting for 65% of the test strains. Plasmid analysis indicated three basic plasmid profiles: profile I was characterized by 68.7- and 4.2-megadalton (MDa) plasmids (62% of strains), profile II was characterized by 66.2- and 1.8-MDa plasmids (20% of strains), and profile III was characterized by a 62.5-MDa plasmid (18% of strains). A small number (19%) of the strains carried at least one additional plasmid over the basic complements, and these could be considered to constitute a miscellaneous category. None of the above-described characteristics of E. coli serotype O157:H7 could be directly correlated with one another, with the nature of infection, or with the geographical distribution of strains.