Streptococcus suis: a re-emerging pathogen associated with occupational exposure to pigs or pork products. Part I - Epidemiology

Ann Agric Environ Med. 2017 Dec 23;24(4):683-695. doi: 10.26444/aaem/79813. Epub 2017 Nov 29.


Streptococcus suis (ex Elliot 1966, Kilpper-Bälz & Schleifer 1987) is a facultatively anaerobic Gram-positive ovoid or coccal bacterium surrounded by a polysaccharide capsule. Based on the antigenic diversity of the capsule, S. suis strains are classified serologically into 35 serotypes. Streptococcus suis is a commensal of pigs, commonly colonizing their tonsils and nasal cavities, mostly in weaning piglets between 4-10 weeks of age. This species occurs also in cattle and other mammals, in birds and in humans. Some strains, mostly those belonging to serotype 2, are also pathogenic for pigs, as well as for other animals and humans. Meningitis is the primary disease syndrome caused by S. suis, both in pigs and in humans. It is estimated that meningitis accounted for 68.0% of all cases of human disease reported until the end of 2012, followed by septicaemia (including life-threatening condition described as 'streptococcal toxic shock-like syndrome' - STSLS), arthritis, endocarditis, and endophthalmitis. Hearing loss and/or ves tibular dysfunction are the most common sequelae after recovery from meningitis caused by S. suis, occurring in more than 50% of patients. In the last two decades, the number of reported human cases due to S. suis has dramatically increased, mostly due to epidemics recorded in China in 1998 and 2005, and the fulminant increase in morbidity in the countries of south-eastern Asia, mostly Vietnam and Thailand. Out of 1,642 cases of S. suis infections identified between 2002-2013 worldwide in humans, 90.2% occurred in Asia, 8.5% in Europe and 1.3% in other parts of the globe. The human disease has mostly a zoonotic and occupational origin and occurs in pig breeders, abattoir workers, butchers and workers of meat processing facilities, veterinarians and meat inspectors. Bacteria are transmitted to workers by close contact with pigs or pig products, usually through contamination of minor cuts or abrasions on skin of hands and/or arms, or by pig bite. A different epidemiologic situation occurs in the Southeast Asian countries where most people become infected by habitual consumption of raw or undercooked pork, blood and offal products in the form of traditional dishes. Prevention of S. suis infections in pigs includes vaccination, improvement in pig-raising conditions, disinfection and/or fumigation of animal houses, and isolation of sick animals at the outbreak of disease. Prevention of human infections comprises: protection of skin from pig bite or injury with sharp tools by people occupationally exposed to pigs and pig products, prompt disinfection and dressing of wounds and abrasions at work, protection of the respiratory tract by wearing appropriate masks or repirators, consulting a doctor in the case of febrile illness after exposure to pigs or pork meat, avoidance of occupations associated with exposure to pigs and pork by immunocompomised people, avoidance of consumption of raw pork or pig blood, adequate cooking of pork, and health education.

Keywords: Streptococcus suis; carriage; disease; epidemiology; humans; pigs; prevention; treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Abattoirs
  • Animals
  • China
  • Humans
  • Meat Products / analysis
  • Meat Products / microbiology*
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis*
  • Streptococcal Infections / epidemiology*
  • Streptococcal Infections / microbiology
  • Streptococcal Infections / veterinary*
  • Streptococcus suis / genetics
  • Streptococcus suis / isolation & purification
  • Streptococcus suis / physiology*
  • Swine
  • Swine Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Swine Diseases / microbiology
  • Zoonoses / epidemiology
  • Zoonoses / microbiology