Utility of whole-genome sequencing during an investigation of multiple foodborne outbreaks of Shigella sonnei

Amy F. W. Mikhail, Monique Pereboom, Lara Utsi, Jeremy Hawker, Jonathan Lighthill, Heather Aird, Mark Swindlehurst, David R. Greig, Claire Jenkins, Gauri Godbole, Richard Elson

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In April 2018, Public Health England was notified of cases of Shigella sonnei who had eaten food from three different catering outlets in England. The outbreaks were initially investigated as separate events, but whole-genome sequencing (WGS) showed they were caused by the same strain. The investigation included analyses of epidemiological data, the food chain and microbiological examination of food samples. WGS was used to determine the phylogenetic relatedness and antimicrobial resistance profile of the outbreak strain. Ultimately, 33 cases were linked to this outbreak; the majority had eaten food from seven outlets specialising in Indian or Middle Eastern cuisine. Five outlets were linked to two or more cases, all of which used fresh coriander although a shared supplier was not identified. An investigation at one of the venues recorded that 86% of cases reported eating dishes with coriander as an ingredient or garnish. Four cases were admitted to hospital and one had evidence of treatment failure with ciprofloxacin. Phylogenetic analysis showed that the outbreak strain was part of a wider multidrug-resistant clade associated with travel to Pakistan. Poor hygiene practices during cultivation, distribution or preparation of fresh produce are likely contributing factors.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere71
JournalEpidemiology and Infection
Early online date21 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Cohort Studies
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Dysentery
  • Bacillary
  • epidemiology
  • microbiology England
  • Food Microbiology
  • Humans
  • Phylogeny

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