Validation of pulsed-field gel electrophoresis and spa typing for long-term, nationwide epidemiological surveillance studies of Staphylococcus aureus infections

J Clin Microbiol. 2007 Jan;45(1):127-33. doi: 10.1128/JCM.01866-06. Epub 2006 Nov 8.


Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) of genomic macrorestriction fragments has been used by the Belgian Reference Laboratory for Staphylococci for national hospital surveys of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus since 1992. The sequencing of the polymorphic X region of the protein A gene (spa typing) offers significant advantages over PFGE in terms of speed, ease of interpretation, and exportability. To validate its potential use for national surveillance, we evaluated the robustness of spa typing compared with that of PFGE based on a collection of 217 S. aureus strains representative of the Belgian S. aureus epidemiology during the last 13 years. spa typing and PFGE both showed high discriminatory power (discriminatory indexes of 0.98 and 0.96, respectively) and achieved high concordance (95.9%) in type classification. Both methods also showed good concordance with multilocus sequence typing (MLST) (95.5%). However, we observed occasional "violations" of MLST clonal complex assignment by spa typing. Our results suggest that both PFGE and spa typing are reliable methods for long-term, nationwide epidemiological surveillance studies. We suggest that spa typing, which is a single-locus-based method, should preferably be used in combination with additional markers, such as staphylococcal cassette chromosome mec typing or resistance or virulence gene detection.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Bacterial Typing Techniques*
  • Belgium / epidemiology
  • Electrophoresis, Gel, Pulsed-Field*
  • Humans
  • Methicillin / pharmacology
  • Methicillin Resistance
  • Population Surveillance / methods*
  • Staphylococcal Infections / epidemiology*
  • Staphylococcal Infections / microbiology
  • Staphylococcal Protein A / genetics*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / classification*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / drug effects
  • Staphylococcus aureus / genetics
  • Time Factors


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Staphylococcal Protein A
  • Methicillin