Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) causes severe foodborne illness (listeriosis). Previous molecular subtyping methods, such as pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), were critical in detecting outbreaks that led to food safety improvements and declining incidence, but PFGE provides limited genetic resolution. A multiagency collaboration began performing real-time, whole-genome sequencing (WGS) on all US Lm isolates from patients, food, and the environment in September 2013, posting sequencing data into a public repository. Compared with the year before the project began, WGS, combined with epidemiologic and product trace-back data, detected more listeriosis clusters and solved more outbreaks (2 outbreaks in pre-WGS year, 5 in WGS year 1, and 9 in year 2). Whole-genome multilocus sequence typing and single nucleotide polymorphism analyses provided equivalent phylogenetic relationships relevant to investigations; results were most useful when interpreted in context of epidemiological data. WGS has transformed listeriosis outbreak surveillance and is being implemented for other foodborne pathogens.
Keywords: DNA sequencing; Listeria monocytogenes; foodborne diseases; outbreaks.
Published by Oxford University Press for the Infectious Diseases Society of America 2016. This work is written by (a) US Government employee(s) and is in the public domain in the US.