Two hundred seventy-nine cases of human listeriosis (92 pregnancy-related cases and 187 non-pregnancy-related cases) caused by a serovar 4b and phagovar 2389:2425:3274:2671:47:108:340 strain were identified in France between March and December 1992. Epidemiological investigations included a case-control study (not described here) and microbiological analyses of foods. Results of the case-control study and characterization of food isolates identified pork tongue in jelly, a ready-to-eat meat product, as the major vehicle of this outbreak, and to a lesser extent, delicatessen products contaminated secondarily during handling in food stores. As far as serotyping, phage typing, DNA macrorestriction pattern analysis (obtained by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis [PFGE]), and ribotyping are concerned, this epidemic strain is phenotypically and genomically closely related to strains responsible for major outbreaks of listeriosis previously observed in Europe and North America. The epidemic strain sensu stricto as defined by PFGE (2/1/3) displayed the same serovar, phagovar, ribovar, and ApaI and NotI PFGE patterns as the epidemic strains from outbreaks in Switzerland, California, and Denmark, but it consistently showed differences in the SmaI PFGE profile. This information greatly contributed to the identification of the major food vehicle (pork tongue in jelly) and further allowed exclusion of other foods (cheese) as possible sources of this major listeriosis epidemic.
Recent food-borne outbreaks of human listeriosis as well as numerous sporadic cases have been mainly caused by Listeria monocytogenes serovar 4b strains. Thus, it was of interest to find out whether a certain clone or a certain few clones were responsible for these cases and especially for outbreaks. We used pulsed-field gel electrophoresis of large chromosomal DNA restriction fragments generated by ApaI, SmaI, or NotI to analyse 75 L. monocytogenes strains isolated during six major and eight smaller recent listeriosis outbreaks. These strains could be divided into 20 different genomic varieties. Thirteen of 14 strains isolated during major epidemics in Switzerland (1983-1987), the United States (California, 1985) and Denmark (1985-1987) demonstrated indistinguishable DNA restriction patterns. In contrast, strains responsible for the outbreaks in Canada (Nova Scotia, 1981), the United States (Massachusetts, 1983), France (Anjou, 1975-1976), New Zealand (1969), and Austria (1986) and some smaller outbreaks in France (1987, 1988, 1989) were each characterized by particular combinations of DNA restriction patterns. Seventy-seven percent of the tested strains could be classified into the previously described ApaI group A (Brosch et al. 1991), demonstrating a very close genomic relatedness. Because 49% of the epidemic strains selected for this study belonged to phagovar 2389/2425/3274/2671/47/108/340 or 2389/47/108/340, fifty-six additional strains of these phagovars, isolated from various origins, were also typed to determine whether differences in DNA restriction profiles between epidemic and randomly selected strains of the same phagovars could be pointed out. Variations in DNA patterns appeared more frequently within randomly selected strains than within epidemic strains.