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J Hosp Infect. 2002 Sep;52(1):43-51.

Genetic relationship between Escherichia coli strains isolated from the intestinal flora and those responsible for infectious diseases among patients hospitalized in intensive care units.

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Département de Microbiologie Médicale et Moléculaire, EA 3250, Unité de Bactériologie, Faculté de Médecine, Tours, France.


The exact origin of strains of Escherichia coli responsible for infectious diseases in intensive care units (ICUs) remains partly unknown. Our aim was to determine the nature of the link between strains from the intestinal flora of hospital staff, strains from the intestinal flora of patients hospitalized in ICUs and strains isolated from ICU patients with invasive diseases. For this purpose, 77 strains of E. coli were genetically characterized by exploring their entire genomes by random amplified polymorphism of DNA (RAPD), and by determining their phylogenetic position in ECOR (E. coli reference) groups, the virulence factors harboured (pap, sfa, afa, hly, aer and cnf) and their ability to mutate. The strains isolated from the intestinal flora of hospital staff were found to constitute a genetically heterogeneous population compared with the strains isolated from ICU carriers, which were highly clustered. The latter strains harboured numerous virulence factors, and 80% belonged to the group ECOR B2. The strains isolated from infected patients harboured fewer virulence factors than those from the ICU carriers, and only half belonged to ECOR B2. Moreover, these strains were more genetically related to strains from hospital staff than to strains from ICU carriers. Thus, the exogenous origin of the E. coli strains is probably almost as important as translocation from intestinal flora in ICUs. Moreover, a strong mutator phenotype had a minor, or no, role in the rapid adaptation to modifications in the ecological environment.

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