Escherichia coli is a widespread commensal of the vertebrate intestinal tract. Until recently, no strong association between a particular clone and a given host species has been found. However, members of the B2 subgroup VIII clone with an O81 serotype appear to be human host specific. To determine the degree of host specificity exhibited by this clone, a PCR-based assay was used to screen 723 faecal and clinical isolates from humans, and 904 faecal isolates from animals. This clone was not detected among the animal isolates, but was discovered in people living in Africa, Europe and South America. The clone is rarely isolated from people suffering from intestinal or extraintestinal disease and is avirulent in a mouse model of extraintestinal infection. Fine-scale epidemiological analysis suggests that this clone is competitively dominant relative to other members of the B2 phylogenetic group and that it has increased in frequency over the past 20 years. This clone appears to be a good candidate for use as a probiotic, and may be suitable as an indicator of human faecal contamination in microbial source tracking studies.