Salmonella enterica, Campylobacter and Yersinia species, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), Listeria monocytogenes and Clostridium perfringens are the bacterial pathogens constituting the greatest burden of food-borne disease in Finland. Several molecular genetic methods have been applied to diagnose, discriminate and survey these bacteria. PCR, PCR-RFLP and PFGE are the most widely and successfully used. However, these methods are unable to replace conventional and internationally standardised phenotyping. Electronic database libraries of the different genomic profiles will enable continuous surveillance of infections and detection of possible infection clusters at an early stage. Furthermore, whole-genome sequence data have opened up new insights into epidemiological surveillance. Laboratory-based surveillance performed in a timely manner and exploiting adequate methods, and co-operation at local, national and international levels are among the key elements in preventing food-borne diseases. This paper reviews different applications of molecular genetic methods for investigating enteric bacterial pathogens and gives examples of the methods successfully used in diagnostics and epidemiological studies in Finland.
Listeria monocytogenes strains that were isolated from 314 human listeriosis cases in Finland during an 11-year period were analyzed by O:H serotyping and pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). Serotyping divided the isolates into five serotypes, the most common being 1/2a (53%) and 4b (27%). During the study period, the number of cases caused by serotype 1/2a increased from 22% in 1990 to 67% in 2001, and those caused by serotype 4b decreased from 61 to 27%, respectively. PFGE with restriction enzyme AscI divided the strains into 81 PFGE genotypes; among strains of serotypes 1/2a and 4b, 49 and 18 PFGE types were seen, respectively. PFGE type 1 (serotype 1/2a) was the most prevalent single type (37 strains). Together with six other, closely related PFGE types, PFGE type 1 formed a group of 71 strains, representing 23% of all 314 strains. Strains of PFGE type 1 have also been isolated from cold smoked fish, suggesting a source of human infections caused by this type. Moreover, PFGE type 24 (serotype 1/2c) was significantly associated with gender: 5% of 180 male subjects but none of 132 female subjects (P = 0.012). An electronic database library was created from the PFGE profiles to make possible the prompt detection of new emerging profiles and the tracing of potential infection clusters in the future.