Research – Whole-Genome Sequencing of Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli for Characterization and Outbreak Investigation



Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) causes high frequencies of foodborne infections worldwide and has been linked to numerous outbreaks each year. Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) has been the gold standard for surveillance until the recent transition to whole-genome sequencing (WGS). To further understand the genetic diversity and relatedness of outbreak isolates, a retrospective analysis of 510 clinical STEC isolates was conducted. Among the 34 STEC serogroups represented, most (59.6%) belonged to the predominant six non-O157 serogroups. Core genome single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) analysis differentiated clusters of isolates with similar PFGE patterns and multilocus sequence types (STs). One serogroup O26 outbreak strain and another non-typeable (NT) strain, for instance, were identical by PFGE and clustered together by MLST; however, both were distantly related in the SNP analysis. In contrast, six outbreak-associated serogroup O5 strains clustered with five ST-175 serogroup O5 isolates, which were not part of the same outbreak as determined by PFGE. The use of high-quality SNP analyses enhanced the discrimination of these O5 outbreak strains into a single cluster. In all, this study demonstrates how public health laboratories can more rapidly use WGS and phylogenetics to identify related strains during outbreak investigations while simultaneously uncovering important genetic attributes that can inform treatment practices.

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