Molecular markers for the study of streptococcal epidemiology
Diseases caused by Streptococcus pyogenes (Group A streptococcus, GAS) range from superficial infections such as pharyngitis and impetigo to potentially fatal rheumatic heart disease and invasive disease. Studies spanning emm-typing surveillance to population genomics are providing new insights into the epidemiology, pathogenesis, and biology of this organism. Such studies have demonstrated the differences that exist in the epidemiology of streptococcal disease between developing and developed nations. In developing nations, where streptococcal disease is endemic, the diversity of GAS emm-types circulating is much greater than that found in developed nations. An association between emm-type and disease, as observed in developed countries is also lacking. Intriguingly, comparative genetic studies suggest that emm-type is not always a good predictor of the evolutionary relatedness of geographically distant isolates. A view of GAS as a highly dynamic organism, in possession of a core set of virulence genes that contribute to host niche specialization and common pathogenic processes, augmented by accessory genes that change the relative virulence of specific lineages is emerging. Our inability to definitively identify genetic factors that contribute to specific disease outcome underscores the complex nature of streptococcal diseases.