Escherichia coli: an old friend with new tidings

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Abstract

Escherichia coli is one of the most-studied microorganisms worldwide but its characteristics are continually changing. Extraintestinal E. coli infections, such as urinary tract infections and neonatal sepsis, represent a huge public health problem. They are caused mainly by specialized extraintestinal pathogenic E. coli (ExPEC) strains that can innocuously colonize human hosts but can also cause disease upon entering a normally sterile body site. The virulence capability of such strains is determined by a combination of distinctive accessory traits, called virulence factors, in conjunction with their distinctive phylogenetic background. It is conceivable that by developing interventions against the most successful ExPEC lineages or their key virulence/colonization factors the associated burden of disease and health care costs could foreseeably be reduced in the future. On the other hand, one important problem worldwide is the increase of antimicrobial resistance shown by bacteria. As underscored in the last WHO global report, within a wide range of infectious agents including E. coli, antimicrobial resistance has reached an extremely worrisome situation that ‘threatens the achievements of modern medicine’. In the present review, an update of the knowledge about the pathogenicity, antimicrobial resistance and clinical aspects of this ‘old friend’ was presented.

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