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Biofilm Promotes Streptococcal Survival in the Environment

Summary and Comment |
January 15, 2014

Biofilm Promotes Streptococcal Survival in the Environment

  1. Richard T. Ellison III, MD

Group A streptococci and pneumococci within biofilms can survive lengthy periods on hands or in the environment.

  1. Richard T. Ellison III, MD

Although person-to-person transmission of Streptococcus pyogenes and Streptococcus pneumoniae has long been recognized, transmission from contaminated environmental surfaces is not well defined. Recent work showing that biofilms enhance microbial survival in the environment led investigators in New York to explore whether biofilms could contribute to fomite transmission of streptococci. Their experiments involved two strains of S. pneumoniae and two of group A streptococci (S. pyogenes strain JRS4 [a streptomycin-resistant derivative of a clinical M6 isolate] and an M3 clinical isolate).

In initial experiments, the investigators found that pneumococcal cells grown in broth media survived drying on a plastic surface for <3 days, whereas cells in biofilms on pre-fixed epithelia survived for ≥30 days. Biofilm-derived group A streptococcal cells similarly showed prolonged survival, remaining viable for ≤4 months. Challenge studies with mice showed that pneumococcal and group A streptococcal cells within biofilm retained the ability to cause nasopharyngeal colonization for at least 1 month. Such cells also survived in high densities for ≥3 hours on volunteers' hands. Subsequent studies in a daycare center found that S. pneumoniae (likely deposited in natural human nasal biofilm) could be cultured from four of five tested soft toys, and S. pyogenes from soft toys, books, hard surfaces, and cribs.

Comment

These findings strongly suggest transmission of both pneumococci and group A streptococci by fomites contaminated with nasopharyngeal biofilm. They provide further justification for the CDC's respiratory etiquette campaign (cover your cough!), as well as for infection-control programs in daycare settings.

  • Disclosures for Richard T. Ellison III, MD at time of publication Grant / research support NIH-NIAID

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