Lactococcus garvieae (junior synonym, Enterococcus seriolicida) is a major pathogen of fish, producing fatal septicemia among fish species living in very diverse environments. The phenotypic traits of L. garvieae strains collected from three different continents (Asia, Europe, and Australia) indicated phenotypic heterogeneity. On the basis of the acidification of d-tagatose and sucrose, three biotypes were defined. DNA relatedness values and a specific PCR assay showed that all the biotypes belonged to the same genospecies, L. garvieae. All of the L. garvieae strains were serotyped as Lancefield group N. Ribotyping proved that one clone was found both in Japan, where it probably originated, and in Italy, where it was probably imported. PCR of environmental samples did not reveal the source of the contamination of the fish in Italy. Specific clones (ribotypes) were found in outbreaks in Spain and in Italy. The L. garvieae reference strain, isolated in the United Kingdom from a cow, belonged to a unique ribotype. L. garvieae is a rising zoonotic agent. The biotyping scheme, the ribotyping analysis, and the PCR assay described in this work allowed the proper identification of L. garvieae and the description of the origin and of the source of contamination of strains involved in outbreaks or in sporadic cases
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