Invasive listeriosis is a rare, life-threatening foodborne disease. Lombardy, an Italian region accounting for 16% of the total population, reported 55% of all listeriosis cases in the years 2006-2010. The aim of our study was to provide a snapshot of listeriosis epidemiology in this region after the implementation of a voluntary laboratory-based surveillance system.
We characterized by serotyping, pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, multilocus sequence typing and detection of epidemic clone markers, 134 isolates from 132 listeriosis cases, including 15 pregnancy-related cases, occurring in the years 2006-2010 in Lombardy. Demographic and clinical characteristics of cases have also been described.
The mean age of non pregnancy-associated cases was 64.7 years, with 55.9% of cases being older than 65 years. Cases having no underlying medical conditions accounted for 11.6%. The all-cause fatality rate of 83 cases with a known survival outcome was 25.3%.
Serotypes 1/2a and 4b comprised 52.2% and 38.8% of isolates, respectively. Seventy-three AscI pulsotypes and 25 sequence types assigned to 23 clonal complexes were recognized. Moreover, 53 (39.5%) isolates tested positive for the epidemic clone markers. Twelve molecular subtype clusters including at least three isolates were detected, with cluster 11 (1/2a/ST38) including 31 isolates identified during the entire study period. No outbreaks were notified to public health authorities during this period.
The findings of our study proved that epidemiology of listeriosis in Lombardy is characterized by a high prevalence of major clones and the increasing role of serotype 1/2a. Molecular subtyping is an essential tool in the epidemiology and surveillance of listeriosis. Rapid molecular cluster detection could alert about putative outbreaks, thus increasing the chance of detecting and inactivating routes of transmission.