Genomic-based identification of environmental and clinical Listeria monocytogenes strains associated with an abortion outbreak in beef heifers


Source: BMC Veterinary Research



In a beef cattle facility an outbreak of abortions occurred over a 36-day period and included samples from two aborted (non-viable) fetuses and 21 post-abortion clinical cases. There are numerous etiologies, including clinical listeriosis. At the species level, Listeria monocytogenes is ubiquitous in cattle production environments, including soil, feed, and occasionally water sources, and is a common enteric resident of cattle and other mammals. There are four genetically distinct lineages of L. monocytogenes (I-IV), with most lineage III and IV isolates obtained from ruminants. Definitive diagnosis of L. monocytogenes as a causative agent in disease outbreaks relies upon case identification, appropriate sample collection, and laboratory confirmation. Furthermore, clearly establishing a relationship between a pathogen source and clinical disease is difficult.


Of the two fetal and 21 clinical case submissions, 19 were positive for L. monocytogenes. Subsequent culture for L. monocytogenes from water and silage sources identified both as potential origins of infection. Using whole-genome sequencing and phylogenetic analyses, clinical, water and silage L. monocytogenes strains grouped into two of four lineages. All water and silage strains, plus 11 clinical strains placed in lineage III, with identical or nearly identical genomic sequences. The remaining eight clinical strains placed in lineage I, with seven having nearly identical sequences and one distinctly different.


Three genetically distinct strains within two lineages of L. monocytogenes caused the abortion outbreak. The etiology of abortion in 11 cases was directly linked to water and silage contamination from a lineage III L. monocytogenes strain. The source of infection for the remaining abortion cases with two different strains from lineage I is unknown. This is the first report of L. monocytogenes genomics being used as part of an outbreak investigation of cattle abortion.

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