Multiplex PCR was used to detect genes encoding selected virulence determinants associated with strains of Escherichia coli with K1 antigen (K1(+)) and non-K1 E. coli (K1(-)). The prevalence of the fimA, fimH, sfa/foc, ibeA, iutA and hlyF genes was studied for 134 (67 K1(+) and 67 K1(-)) E. coli strains isolated from pregnant women and neonates. The fimA gene was present in 83.6 % of E. coli K1(+) and in 86.6 % of E. coli K1(-) strains. The fimH gene was present in all tested E. coli K1(+) strains and in 97.0 % of non-K1 strains. E. coli K1(+) strains were significantly more likely to possess the following genes than E. coli K1(-) strains: sfa/foc (37.3 vs 16.4 %, P = 0.006), ibeA (35.8 vs 4.5 %, P<0.001), iutA (82.1 vs 35.8 %, P<0.001) and hlyF (28.4 vs 6.0 %, P<0.001). In conclusion, E. coli K1(+) seems to be more virulent than E. coli K1(-) strains in developing severe infections, thereby increasing possible sepsis or neonatal bacterial meningitis.