To investigate the microbiology and epidemiology of the 1,700 sporadic cases of listeriosis that occur annually in the United States, we developed a multilocus enzyme electrophoresis (MEE) typing system for Listeria monocytogenes. We studied 390 isolates by MEE. Eighty-two electrophoretic types (ETs) were defined. Two distinct clusters of ETs, ET group A (ETGA) and ET group B (ETGB), separated at a genetic distance of 0.440, were identified. Strains of ETGB were associated with perinatal listeriosis (P = 0.03). All strains of H antigen type a were in ETGA, while all strains of H antigen type b were in ETGB. Among 328 clinical isolates from cases of literiosis, 55 ETs of L. monocytogenes were defined. Thirty-four ETs were identified among 62 isolates from food products. The mean number of strains per ET (5.2) was significantly higher among clinical isolates than among food-borne isolates. Examination of isolates from outbreaks further documented the link between cases and contaminated food products. In one investigation, we found 11 different ETs, ruling out a single common source as a cause of that outbreak. By examining a large number of isolates collected over a specified time in diverse geographic locations in the United States, we have begun to establish a baseline for the study of the epidemiology of listeriosis by MEE
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