New 16-plex PCR method for rapid detection of diarrheagenic Escherichia coli directly from stool samples

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A rapid 16-plex polymerase chain reaction (PCR) suitable for routine diagnostics of diarrheagenic Escherichia coli (EHEC, EIEC, EAEC, ETEC, and EPEC) was developed, validated with control strains, and tested with 250 diarrhoeal stool samples. The specificity was 100% when tested with 289 control bacterial strains, and the analytical sensitivity of automated DNA extraction directly from stool samples was made by boiling the bacterial culture (104–105 colony forming units/ml). The assay design starting directly from extraction of stool DNA allowed same day analysis without compromising sensitivity and specificity, which makes it superior compared to PCR after culturing the bacteria. The 16-plex PCR method demonstrated high prevalence of diarrheagenic E. coli in stool samples of patients returning from abroad (39.0%) in contrast to the patients with no travel history (8.7%; p < 0.001). The high prevalence of diarrheagenic E. coli suggests that their screening should be part of normal diarrhoea diagnostics, at least in the leading diagnostic laboratories.