Molecular and Genomic Characterization of Enteric Pathogens Circulating during Hajj
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AbstractHajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia is a unique mass gathering event that attracts approximately 3 million pilgrims from around the globe. This diverse pilgrim population coupled with the nature of the performed activities raise major public health concerns in the host country with potential global implications. Although gastroenteritis and diarrhea are common among the pilgrims performing Hajj, the microbial etiologies of these infections are still unknown. We used molecular and antigenic approaches to identify the main pathogens associated with Hajj diarrhea. 544 fecal samples from pilgrims suffering from diarrhea whilst performing Hajj during three consecutive seasons (2011-2013) and 99 control samples from 2011 were screened for 16 pathogens that include bacterial, parasitic and viral etiologies that are commonly associated with diarrheal infections. At least one of the screened pathogens could be detected in 42% (n=228) of the samples from the diarrheal cases. Bacteria were the main agents detected in 83% (n=189) of the positive samples, followed by viral and parasitic agents detected in 6% (n=14) and 5% (n=12) respectively. We have also standardized a 16S-based metagenomic approach to identify the gut microbiome in diarrheal cases and non-diarrheal controls in 76 samples. Also, we have standardized a shotgun metagenomics protocol for the direct characterization (diagnosis) of enteric pathogens without cultivation. This approach was used successfully to identify viral (adenovirus) and bacterial causes of Enterotoxigenic E. coli diarrhea from Hajj samples. The findings in this study fill in clear gaps in our knowledge of the etiologies associated with diarrheal infections during Hajj. Foodborne bacteria were the major contributors to Hajj-diarrheal infections. This was coupled with the increased incidences of antimicrobial resistance loci associated with the identified bacteria. These findings would help the public health policy makers to develop and introduce appropriate public health measures to improve the food safety during Hajj.