Scientists discovers strain of GBS bacteria linked to raw fish

SINGAPORE - Scientists from A*STAR's Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS), together with Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) and the MOH-supported Singapore Infectious Diseases Initiative (SIDI) have successfully sequenced the genome of a strain of Group B Streptococcus (GBS) responsible for the increase in severe infections observed in Singapore this year.

A*STAR said in a media statement that the team discovered the complete genome sequence of a GBS isolate that caused meningitis, a type of bacteria infection, in a local patient. This information will allow scientists to understand how the strain can cause serious disease. A*STAR added that it is developing new tests to detect this bacteria strain in food.

Dr Swaine Chen, Senior Research Scientist in the GIS Infectious Diseases Group and Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine at National University of Singapore Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine who led the project said: "Sequencing is a key first step in modern infectious disease outbreak investigation. Having the sequence will help with ongoing studies to understand how and why this strain can cause serious disease. We are making this data publicly available immediately to accelerate progress as much as possible".

Most strains of GBS bacteria, found in the gut and urinary tract of about 15 to 30 per cent of adult humans, pose little danger of disease to healthy people. The recent outbreak of GBS is unusual as it is associated with the consumption of raw Song (Asian bighead carp) and Toman (snakehead fish).

While there is little danger of disease, the Ministry of Health cautioned in an earlier report that vulnerable groups of people, especially young children, pregnant women, the elderly, or people with chronic illness should avoid eating raw food such as uncooked oysters and sashimi as a precautionary measure.

debwong@sph.com.sg

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