Prevalence and characterization of Staphylococcus aureus in wastewater treatment plants by whole genomic sequencing.


Department of Civil Engineering, College of Engineering, University of Kentucky, USA. Electronic address: [Email]


Infections with Staphylococcus aureus are being spread through contact with the community environment, but the role of wastewater treatment plants in the transmission routes is not defined. This study investigated the prevalence, types, genetic elements, and potential for transmission of S. aureus by these engineered systems. Synchronized sampling events at two wastewater treatment plants were conducted with isolates of S. aureus obtained by a selective enrichment method using acriflavine that suppressed Staphylococcus epidermidis growth. DNA was extracted from a subset of the S. aureus isolates, checked by PCR to assure the absence of S. epidermidis, and sequenced to determine the multilocus sequence type, spa type, and carriage of the methicillin resistance and Panton-Valentine leukocidin genetic elements. Sequences were analyzed for single nucleotide polymorphism differences in pairwise comparison of isolates. There were two dominant S. aureus clonal complexes identified in the isolates, one commonly identified as hospital-related (CC5) and one community-related (CC8). Both types of isolates were found at both treatment facilities, even though only one facility had significant hospital sewage inputs. The presence of S. aureus persisted through treatment, with some isolates recovered from the final processes showing genetic diversity. The presence of the Panton-Valentine leukocidin genetic element was greater than the 1-5% expected from global reports. Our results suggest that treatment provides an opportunity for genetic shift, while the persistence and release of evolved strains of S. aureus may provide an environmentally relevant pathway to new hosts in the environment.


MRSA,Mobile genetic elements,Nucleotides,Sewage,Typing,Wastewater treatment,