Genomic and epidemiological evidence of bacterial transmission from probiotic capsule to blood in ICU patients

Nat Med. 2019 Nov;25(11):1728-1732. doi: 10.1038/s41591-019-0626-9. Epub 2019 Nov 7.


Probiotics are routinely administered to hospitalized patients for many potential indications1 but have been associated with adverse effects that may outweigh their potential benefits2-7. It is particularly alarming that probiotic strains can cause bacteremia8,9, yet direct evidence for an ancestral link between blood isolates and administered probiotics is lacking. Here we report a markedly higher risk of Lactobacillus bacteremia for intensive care unit (ICU) patients treated with probiotics compared to those not treated, and provide genomics data that support the idea of direct clonal transmission of probiotics to the bloodstream. Whole-genome-based phylogeny showed that Lactobacilli isolated from treated patients' blood were phylogenetically inseparable from Lactobacilli isolated from the associated probiotic product. Indeed, the minute genetic diversity among the blood isolates mostly mirrored pre-existing genetic heterogeneity found in the probiotic product. Some blood isolates also contained de novo mutations, including a non-synonymous SNP conferring antibiotic resistance in one patient. Our findings support that probiotic strains can directly cause bacteremia and adaptively evolve within ICU patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteremia / blood
  • Bacteremia / etiology
  • Bacteremia / genetics*
  • Bacteremia / microbiology
  • Diarrhea / blood
  • Diarrhea / etiology
  • Diarrhea / genetics
  • Diarrhea / microbiology
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Genetic Variation / genetics
  • Genome, Bacterial / genetics
  • Genomics
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Lactobacillus / genetics
  • Lactobacillus / pathogenicity*
  • Mutation
  • Phylogeny
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics
  • Probiotics / adverse effects*
  • Probiotics / therapeutic use
  • Whole Genome Sequencing