Whole-genome analysis of Exserohilum rostratum from an outbreak of fungal meningitis and other infections.
Exserohilum rostratum was the cause of most cases of fungal meningitis and other infections associated with the injection of contaminated methylprednisolone acetate produced by the New England Compounding Center (NECC). Until this outbreak, very few human cases of Exserohilum infection had been reported, and very little was known about this dematiaceous fungus, which usually infects plants. Here, we report using whole-genome sequencing (WGS) for the detection of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and phylogenetic analysis to investigate the molecular origin of the outbreak using 22 isolates of E. rostratum retrieved from 19 case patients with meningitis or epidural/spinal abscesses, 6 isolates from contaminated NECC vials, and 7 isolates unrelated to the outbreak. Our analysis indicates that all 28 isolates associated with the outbreak had nearly identical genomes of 33.8 Mb. A total of 8 SNPs were detected among the outbreak genomes, with no more than 2 SNPs separating any 2 of the 28 genomes. The outbreak genomes were separated from the next most closely related control strain by ~136,000 SNPs. We also observed significant genomic variability among strains unrelated to the outbreak, which may suggest the possibility of cryptic speciation in E. rostratum. Copyright © 2014, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.