Group A Streptococcus (GAS) causes an exceptionally broad range of infections in humans, from relatively mild pharyngitis and skin infections to life-threatening necrotizing fasciitis and toxic shock syndrome. An epidemic of severe invasive human infections caused by type emm59 GAS, heretofore an exceedingly rare cause of disease, spread west to east across Canada over a 3-year period (2006 to 2008). By sequencing the genomes of 601 epidemic, historic, and other emm59 organisms, we discovered that a recently emerged, genetically distinct emm59 clone is responsible for the Canadian epidemic. Using near-real-time genome sequencing, we were able to show spread of the Canadian epidemic clone into the United States. The extensive genome data permitted us to identify patterns of geographic dissemination as well as links between emm59 subclonal lineages that cause infections. Mouse and nonhuman primate models of infection demonstrated that the emerged clone is unusually virulent. Transmission of epidemic emm59 strains may have occurred primarily by skin contact, as suggested by an experimental model of skin transmission. In addition, the emm59 strains had a significantly impaired ability to persist in human saliva and to colonize the oropharynx of mice, and seldom caused human pharyngitis. Our study contributes new information to the rapidly emerging field of molecular pathogenomics of bacterial epidemics and illustrates how full-genome data can be used to precisely illuminate the landscape of strain dissemination during a bacterial epidemic.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Pathology and Forensic Medicine