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BACKGROUND:  Strategies to prevent Staphylococcus aureus infection in hospitals focus on patient-to-patient transmission. We used whole-genome sequencing to investigate the role of colonized patients as the source of new S. aureus acquisitions, and the reliability of identifying patient-to-patient transmission using the conventional approach of spa typing and overlapping patient stay. METHODS: Over 14 months, all unselected patients admitted to an adult intensive care unit (ICU) were serially screened for S. aureus. All available isolates (n = 275) were spa typed and underwent whole-genome sequencing to investigate their relatedness at high resolution. RESULTS: Staphylococcus aureus was carried by 185 of 1109 patients sampled within 24 hours of ICU admission (16.7%); 59 (5.3%) patients carried methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA). Forty-four S. aureus (22 MRSA) acquisitions while on ICU were detected. Isolates were available for genetic analysis from 37 acquisitions. Whole-genome sequencing indicated that 7 of these 37 (18.9%) were transmissions from other colonized patients. Conventional methods (spa typing combined with overlapping patient stay) falsely identified 3 patient-to-patient transmissions (all MRSA) and failed to detect 2 acquisitions and 4 transmissions (2 MRSA). CONCLUSIONS: Only a minority of S. aureus acquisitions can be explained by patient-to-patient transmission. Whole-genome sequencing provides the resolution to disprove transmission events indicated by conventional methods and also to reveal otherwise unsuspected transmission events. Whole-genome sequencing should replace conventional methods for detection of nosocomial S. aureus transmission.

Original publication

DOI

10.1093/cid/cit807

Type

Journal article

Journal

Clin Infect Dis

Publication Date

03/2014

Volume

58

Pages

609 - 618

Keywords

Staphylococcus aureus transmission, adult, intensive care unit, spa typing, whole-genome sequencing, Adult, Aged, Cross Infection, Female, Genome, Bacterial, Genome, Human, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Molecular Epidemiology, Molecular Typing, Sequence Analysis, DNA, Staphylococcal Infections, Staphylococcus aureus