Genomic dissection of the 1994 Cronobacter sakazakii outbreak in a French neonatal intensive care unit

Naqash Masood, Karen Moore, Audrey Farbos, Konrad Paszkiewicz, Ben Dickins, Alan McNally, Stephen Forsythe

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BACKGROUND: Cronobacter sakazakii is a member of the genus Cronobacter that has frequently been isolated from powdered infant formula (PIF) and linked with rare but fatal neonatal infections such as meningitis and necrotising enterocolitis. The Cronobacter MLST scheme has reported over 400 sequence types and 42 clonal complexes; however C. sakazakii clonal complex 4 (CC4) has been linked strongly with neonatal infections, especially meningitis. There have been a number of reported Cronobacter outbreaks over the last three decades. The largest outbreak of C. sakazakii was in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in France (1994) that lasted over 3 months and claimed the lives of three neonates. The present study used whole genome sequencing data of 26 isolates obtained from this outbreak to reveal their relatedness. This study is first of its kind to use whole genome sequencing data to analyse a Cronobacter outbreak.

METHODS: Whole genome sequencing data was generated for 26 C. sakazakii isolates on the Illumina MiSeq platform. The whole genome phylogeny was determined using Mugsy and RaxML. SNP calls were determined using SMALT and SAMtools, and filtered using VCFtools.

RESULTS: The whole genome phylogeny suggested 3 distant clusters of C. sakazakii isolates were associated with the outbreak. SNP typing and phylogeny indicate the source of the C. sakazakii could have been from extrinsic contamination of reconstituted infant formula from the NICU environment and personnel. This pool of strains would have contributed to the prolonged duration of the outbreak, which was up to 3 months. Furthermore 3 neonates were co-infected with C. sakazakii from two different genotype clusters.

CONCLUSION: The genomic investigation revealed the outbreak consisted of an heterogeneous population of C. sakazakii isolates. The source of the outbreak was not identified, but probably was due to environmental and personnel reservoirs resulting in extrinsic contamination of the neonatal feeds. It also indicated that C. sakazakii isolates from different genotype clusters have the ability to co-infect neonates.

Original languageEnglish
Article number750
Number of pages9
JournalBMC Genomics
Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2015


  • Cronobacter sakazakii
  • Cross Infection
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Enterobacteriaceae Infections
  • France
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Genotype
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Phylogeny
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Clonal complex
  • MLST
  • Neonatal meningitis
  • SNP analysis


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