Public health authorities place a high priority on investigating listeriosis outbreaks, and these epidemiological investigations remain challenging. Some approaches have been described in the literature to address these challenges. This review of listeriosis clusters and outbreaks investigated in the Province of Quebec (Quebec) highlights investigative approaches that contributed to identifying the source of these outbreaks.
The Laboratoire de Santé Publique du Québec (LSPQ) implemented pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) molecular subtyping in 1997 to identify Listeria monocytogenes clusters among isolates from invasive listeriosis cases identified throughout Quebec. A cluster was defined as three cases or more with the same or similar PFGE profiles (=3 band difference) occurring over a 4-month period. An investigation was initiated if the epidemiologic indicators suggested a common source. Listeriosis data from LSPQ's database were reviewed to identify and describe clusters detected from 1997 to 2011, including those that led to an outbreak investigation. Epidemiological reports prepared following each outbreak were also reviewed.
Eleven clusters were identified in the province by LSPQ between 1997 and 2011. Outbreak investigations were initiated for six clusters, four of which involved more than 10 cases. Factors that contributed to identifying the source for three of these outbreaks highlighted the value of (1) making all stakeholders (food safety and inspection services, public health authorities, and laboratories) aware of any ongoing investigation and sharing relevant information even if the source is not yet identified; (2) promptly collecting food samples identified and considered as possible vehicles of infection identified during the interview of a Listeria case; (3) collecting food items and/or environmental samples in locations reported in common by cases in the same cluster.
Multiple approaches should be considered when investigating L. monocytogenes clusters. Networks to facilitate continuous exchange of human and food data between public health and food safety partners should be encouraged.
Listeria monocytogenes was isolated from critical control points in a Danish turkey processing plant, from turkey products and from cases of human listeriosis. During processing in the plant the prevalence of L. monocytogenes ranged from 25.9 to 41.4%. Cleaning and disinfection decreased the prevalence to 6.4%. Isolates of L. monocytogenes were characterized by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) using restriction endonuclease ApaI. Identical DNA types were obtained from turkey products and the processing line even after cleaning and disinfection. Two identical DNA types were demonstrated among isolates from turkey products and human cases of listeriosis. The prevalence of L. monocytogenes in turkey products ranged from 7.3 to 17.4% for ready-to-eat products and raw products, respectively. Since none of the 27 flocks examined before slaughter sampled positive for L. monocytogenes and the prevalence increased during processing, the potential risk from turkey meat was apparently due to factory hygiene rather than intrinsic contamination of the turkeys.
Forty Listeria monocytogenes isolates obtained in European and Far East regions of Russia were differentiated on the basis of polymorphism of 5 markergenes. Total length of concatemers obtained after sequencing of internal fragments of genes inlA, inlB, inlC, inlE and prs was 3029 b.p. Comparative analysis of concatemers' sequences revealed 237 variable nucleotides. Totally, 25 sequence types were revealed, and isolates from European and Far East regions belonged to different types. On the dendrogram isolates split on 2 clusters, which correspond to early described phylogenetic lines of L. monocytogenes specie. Isolates obtained in European and Far East regions formed independent subclusters within main clusters. Fifteen clinical isolates of L. monocytogenes belonged to 7 different types. Analysis of epidemiologic data on time and place of isolates obtaining suggested that isolates of the same sequence type are epidemiologically related and might represent one strain; index of discrimination for proposed typing method was calculated as 0.982.
Data on the levels of bacteria and the amounts of food consumed in food-borne outbreaks provides an excellent opportunity to study the effects of exposure to Listeria monocytogenes. Between June 1998 and April 1999, an outbreak caused by L. monocytogenes serotype 3a in butter occurred in Finland. The majority of the cases were immunocompromised and hospitalized at the Helsinki University Central Hospital (HUCH), where 7-g butter packages produced by a dairy plant were used as the only butter brand. The butter had also been sold to 10 other central hospitals as well as to the retail market. Based on the data on hospital stay, butter consumption and the qualitative and quantitative analyses of L. monocytogenes in butter, the attack rates and exposure were estimated. Incubation studies on the naturally contaminated small butter packages showed that the levels found in the packages at the time of detection of the outbreak could reliably be used for these estimations. However, the levels of L. monocytogenes in 500-g packages increased. The attack rate among HUCH patients varied from 70 to 117 cases per 1000 patients at risk, depending on which estimate of the contamination level of butter (100-60%) was used. The highest single dose (7.7 x 10(4) CFU in one meal) could have been sufficient to cause the listeriosis cases at HUCH. However, this data also supports another hypothesis, according to which these listeriosis cases were caused by a prolonged daily consumption of contaminated butter during the hospital stay. The estimated daily dose, based on the hospital kitchen data or the highest detected level in a wholesale sample (11,000 CFU/g), would have varied from 1.4 x 10(1) to 2.2 x 10(3) CFU/day or from 2.2 x 10(4) to 3.1 x 10(5) CFU/day, respectively. The choice of the hypothesis has a crucial impact on the interpretation of this data for the dose-response estimations as well as for the discussion on Food Safety Objectives. Due to the susceptibility of hospital patients, special care must be taken in order to avoid even low levels of L. monocytogenes in food served.
The first lesson learned from this outbreak was that vacuum-packed rainbow trout is not only an excellent medium for the growth of Listeria monocytogenes, but may also cause human listeriosis. Another lesson is that one single fish processing plant may spread multiple clonal types of L. monocytogenes by selling contaminated products to consumers. Thus, when investigating fish-borne outbreaks of listeriosis one should identify and type several isolates of L. monocytogenes from each food and environmental sample, since multiple clonal types might be present. The outbreak described in this paper involved at least eight human cases, three clonal types of L. monocytogenes, and lasted for 11 months. During the outbreak investigation, L. monocytogenes was also isolated from another brand of rainbow trout found in the refrigerator of one of the patients. These latter isolates belonged to a clonal type not associated with the outbreak. However, this clonal type is of considerable interest since it has been associated with foodborne outbreaks of listeriosis in several countries, and is also the second most common clonal type among human clinical isolates of L. monocytogenes in Sweden. Besides the described outbreak, it is likely that vacuum-packed, cold-smoked and gravad rainbow trout have been involved in additional cases of foodborne listeriosis in Sweden.
The records were reviewed of all patients treated at the Vancouver General Hospital over the 15 years from 1965 through 1979 for infections proved by culture to have been caused by Listeria monocytogenes. Although listeriosis is not common in humans, certain groups seem to be susceptible - immunocompromised patients, pregnant women, neonates and the elderly. All these groups were represented among the 22 cases reviewed. There were 17 adults, 3 of whom were pregnant women who had only a mild influenza-like illness. Of the remaining 14 adults 9 were immunocompromised and 5 apparently immunocompetent; 7 presented with meningitis and 7 with bacteremia only. Of the five infants with neonatal listeriosis, two had early-onset disease (bacteremia) and three had the late-onset form (meningitis). Seven patients were treated with penicillin alone, seven with ampicillin alone and eight with penicillin or ampicillin combined with kanamycin, gentamicin or chloramphenicol. There were eight deaths: several were directly attributable to the listeriosis, but in others the severity of the underlying illness was an important factor. Serotypes 1 and 4b were equally common among the 16 specimens of L. monocytogenes that were typed.
The characterization of the pulse-electrotypes of L. monocytogenes, isolated in 2003-2004 in Moscow from different sources, is presented. Among the cultures, isolated from humans, one outbreak pulse electrotype was detected and from different objects in buildings where a wide variety of food products was produced several probably related and unrelated pulse-electrotypes were obtained. The conclusion was made that several independent L. monocytogenes clones existed on the territory of Moscow, and many products supplied to retail trade and public catering enterprises were contaminated with these clones. Pulse electrophoresis was shown to be the most effective method for intraspecific typing and the study of the molecular epidemiology of listeriosis. Grounds for the necessity to improve the microbiological diagnostics of L. monocytogenes infection are given.
A major Listeria monocytogenes outbreak occurred in the province of Quebec, Canada, in 2008, involving a strain of L. monocytogenes (LM P93) characterized by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and associated with the consumption of pasteurized milk cheese. This report describes the results of the ensuing investigation. All individuals affected with LM P93 across the province were interviewed with a standardized questionnaire. Microbiological and environmental investigations were conducted by the Quebec's Food Inspection Branch of Ministère de l'Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l'Alimentation du Québec among retailers and cheese plants involved in the outbreak. Between 8 June and 31 December 2008, 38 confirmed cases of LM P93 were reported to public health authorities, including 16 maternal-neonatal cases (14 pregnant women, and two babies born to asymptomatic mothers). The traceback of many brands of cheese that tested positive for LM P93 collected from retailers identified two cheese plants contaminated by L. monocytogenes strains on 3 and 4 September. PFGE profiles became available for both plants on 8 September, and confirmed that a single plant was associated with the outbreak. Products from these two plants were distributed to more than 300 retailers in the province, leading to extensive cross-contamination of retail stock. L. monocytogenes is ubiquitous, and contamination can occur subsequent to heat treatment, which usually precedes cheese production. Contaminated soft-textured cheese is particularly prone to bacterial growth. Ongoing regulatory and industry efforts are needed to decrease the presence of Listeria in foods, including pasteurized products. Retailers should be instructed about the risk of cross-contamination, even with soft pasteurized cheese and apply methods to avoid it.