Background. One-third of the 100 million travelers to the tropics annually acquire extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL)-producing Enterobacteriaceae (ESBL-PE), with undefined clinical consequences.
Methods. Symptoms suggesting Enterobacteriaceae infections were recorded prospectively among 430 Finnish travelers, 90 (21%) of whom acquired ESBL-PE abroad. ESBL-PE isolates underwent polymerase chain reaction-based detection of diarrheagenic Escherichia coli (DEC) pathotypes (enteroaggregative E. coli [EAEC], enteropathogenic E. coli [EPEC], enterotoxigenic E. coli [ETEC], enteroinvasive E. coli, and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli), and extraintestinal pathogenic/uropathogenic E. coli (ExPEC/UPEC). Laboratory-confirmed ESBL-PE infections were surveyed 5 years before and after travel.
Results. Among the 90 ESBL-PE carriers, manifestations of Enterobacteriaceae infection included travelers' diarrhea (TD) (75/90 subjects) and urinary tract infection (UTI) (3/90). The carriers had 96 ESBL-producing E. coli isolates, 51% exhibiting a molecular pathotype: 13 (14%) were DEC (10 EAEC, 2 EPEC, 1 ETEC) (12 associated with TD) and 39 (41%) ExPEC/UPEC (none associated with UTI). Of ESBL-PE, 3 (3%) were ExPEC/UPEC-EAEC hybrids (2 associated with diarrhea, none with UTI). Potential ESBL-PE infections were detected in 15 of 90 subjects (17%). The 10-year medical record survey identified 4 laboratory-confirmed ESBL-PE infections among the 430 travelers, all in subjects who screened ESBL-PE negative after returning home from their index journeys but had traveled abroad before their infection episodes.
Conclusions. Half of all travel-acquired ESBL-producing E. coli strains qualified molecularly as pathogens. Extraintestinal and uropathogenic pathotypes outnumbered enteric pathotypes (41% vs 14%), yet the latter correlated more closely with symptomatic infection (0% vs 92%). Despite more ESBL-PE strains qualifying as ExPEC/UPEC than DEC, travel-acquired ESBL-PE are more often associated with TD than UTI.
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