The epidemiological features of the newly emerged carbapenem-resistant hypervirulent Klebsiella pneumoniae (CR-HvKP) and its potential threat to human health are currently unknown. In this study, a total of 784 blaKPC-2-bearing CRKP strains collected from three hospitals located at different geographical locales in China during 2014-2017 were subjected to molecular typing, screening of virulence plasmid, string test and WGS (367/784 strains). The proportion of CRKP among all clinical K. pneumoniae strains increased sharply in China during 2014-2017. A large proportion (58%) of these CRKP strains were found to harbour a virulence-encoding plasmid, while only 13% of such strains exhibited a hypervirulent phenotype by string test and neutrophil assay. The lack of hypervirulent phenotype in virulent plasmid-bearing CRKP strains was found to be due to the mutation's presence on rmpA and rmpA2 genes, which rendered them non-functional, while some strains carrying wild type rmpA did not exhibit hypervirulent phenotype either suggesting that other factors might also contribute to the hypervirulence of CRKP. Phylogenetic and SNP analysis indicated that the transmission of these CRKP strains in China likely involved several major clones of ST11. Carriage of IncFII pSWU01-like, blaKPC-2-bearing plasmid was found to be the major mechanism of carbapenem resistance in these CRKP strains. In conclusion, our data indicated that the prevalence of CRKP strains carrying the virulence plasmid has rapidly increased in China, while genetic markers were not correlated well with the hypervirulent phenotypes, which call for a better definition and screening for these truly hypervirulent CR-HvKP strains in clinical settings.
Keywords: CR-HvKP; Klebsiella pneumoniae; epidemiology; prevalence; virulence plasmid.