Family Clusters of Shiga Toxin-producing Escherichia coli Infection: An Overlooked Source of Transmission. Data From the ItalKid-Hus Network.

Pediatr Infect Dis J 2021 Jan;40(1):1-5

Center for HUS Prevention Control and Management, Fondazione IRCCS Ca' Granda Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, Milan, Italy.

Background: The aim of the present work was to investigate family clusters of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) infection among the household members of STEC positive patients, identified within a screening program of bloody diarrhea (BD) for STEC in Northern Italy.

Methods: Stool samples from patients with BD or BD-associated-hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and related households were investigated by molecular and bacteriologic methods to detect and characterize the virulence profile of STEC and Pulsed Field Gel Electrophoresis analysis were done on isolates.

Results: Thirty-nine cases of STEC infection (isolated BD in 16, BD-associated-HUS in 23) were considered, and a total of 130 stool samples from 1 to 8 households of the index patient were analyzed. The prevalence of positivity was higher in siblings (34.8%, 8/23) than in mothers (20%, 7/35), grandparents (9.5%, 2/21), fathers (8.8%, 3/34) or other households. In 14 clusters (36%), one or more household shared a STEC with the same virulence profile (stx, eae, serogroup) as the index case. In 7 clusters, STEC strains isolated from at least 2 subjects also shared identical Pulsed Field Gel Electrophoresis profile. The frequency of household infection does not appear to be associated to the index case's illness (HUS or BD), nor with the serotype or with the virulence profile of the involved STEC (stx2 or stx1-stx2).

Conclusions: Our study shows that STEC infections, most likely related to human-to-human transmission, are common among households of patients with STEC BD or HUS and underlines the importance of extending the epidemiologic investigations to all family members, as the index case may not always be the primary infection in the family.

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