Stalking a lethal superbug by whole-genome sequencing and phylogenetics: Influence on unraveling a major hospital outbreak of carbapenem-resistantKlebsiella pneumoniae

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From July 2010-April 2013, Leipzig University Hospital experienced the largest outbreak of a Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase 2 (KPC-2)-producing Klebsiella pneumoniae (KPC-2-Kp) strain observed in Germany to date. After termination of the outbreak, we aimed to reconstruct transmission pathways by phylogenetics based on whole-genome sequencing (WGS).


One hundred seventeen KPC-2-Kp isolates from 89 outbreak patients, 5 environmental KPC-2-Kp isolates, and 24 K pneumoniae strains not linked to the outbreak underwent WGS. Phylogenetic analysis was performed blinded to clinical data and based on the genomic reads.


A patient from Greece was confirmed as the source of the outbreak. Transmission pathways for 11 out of 89 patients (12.4%) were plausibly explained by descriptive epidemiology, applying strict definitions. Five of these and an additional 15 (ie, 20 out of 89 patients [22.5%]) were confirmed by phylogenetics. The rate of phylogenetically confirmed transmissions increased significantly from 8 out of 66 (12.1% for the time period before) to 12 out of 23 patients (52.2% for the time period after; P < .001) after implementation of systematic screening for KPC-2-Kp (33,623 screening investigations within 11 months). Using descriptive epidemiology, systematic screening showed no significant effect (7 out of 66 [10.6%] vs 4 out of 23 [17.4%] patients; P = .465). The phylogenetic analysis supported the assumption that a contaminated positioning pillow served as a reservoir for the persistence of KPC-2-Kp.


Effective phylogenetic identification of transmissions requires systematic microbiologic screening. Extensive screening and phylogenetic analysis based on WGS should be started as soon as possible in a bacterial outbreak situation.

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