Whole-genome Sequencing Used to Investigate a Nationwide Outbreak of Listeriosis Caused by Ready-to-eat Delicatessen Meat, Denmark, 2014

Anne Kvistholm Jensen, Eva Møller Nielsen, Jonas Torgny Björkman, Tenna Jensen, Luise Müller, Søren Persson, Gitte Bjerager, Annette Perge, Tyra Grove Krause, Kristoffer Kiil, Gitte Sørensen, Jens Kirk Andersen, Kåre Mølbak, Steen Ethelberg

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Listeriosis is a serious foodborne infection. Outbreaks of listeriosis occur rarely, but have often proved difficult to solve. In June 2014, we detected and investigated a listeriosis outbreak in Denmark using patient interviews and whole-genome sequencing (WGS). We performed WGS on Listeria monocytogenes isolates from patients and available isolates from ready-to-eat foods and compared them using single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) analysis. Case patients had L. monocytogenes with ≤3 SNPs (the outbreak strain) isolated in September 2013-December 2014. Through interviews, we established case patients' food and clinical histories. Food production facilities were inspected and sampled, and we performed trace-back/trace-forward of food delivery chains. In total, 41 cases were identified; 17 deaths occurred (41%). An isolate from a delicatessen meat (spiced meat roll) from company A was identical to the outbreak strain. Half of the patients were infected while hospitalized/institutionalized; institutions were supplied food by company A. The outbreak strain was repeatedly isolated from further samples taken within this company and within companies in its distribution chain. Products from company A were traced and recalled from >6000 food establishments, after which the outbreak ended. Ready-to-eat spiced meat roll from a single production facility caused this outbreak. The product, served sliced and cold, is popular among the elderly; serving it at hospitals probably contributed to the high case-fatality rate. WGS used for patient isolates and isolates from food control inspections, coupled with routine epidemiological follow-up, was instrumental in swiftly locating the source of infections, preventing further illnesses and deaths.
Original languageEnglish
JournalClinical Infectious Diseases
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)64-70
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Listeria monocytogenes
  • bacterial genome
  • foodborne diseases
  • high-throughput nucleotide sequencing
  • outbreak investigation


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