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An invasive Haemophilus influenzae serotype b infection in an Anglo-Saxon plague victim

  • Guellil, Meriam;
  • Keller, Marcel;
  • Dittmar, Jenna M;
  • Inskip, Sarah A;
  • Cessford, Craig;
  • Solnik, Anu;
  • Kivisild, Toomas; 121643;
  • Metspalu, Mait;
  • Robb, John E;
  • Scheib, Christiana L;
Publication Date
Feb 03, 2022
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BACKGROUND: The human pathogen Haemophilus influenzae was the main cause of bacterial meningitis in children and a major cause of worldwide infant mortality before the introduction of a vaccine in the 1980s. Although the occurrence of serotype b (Hib), the most virulent type of H. influenzae, has since decreased, reports of infections with other serotypes and non-typeable strains are on the rise. While non-typeable strains have been studied in-depth, very little is known of the pathogen's evolutionary history, and no genomes dating prior to 1940 were available. RESULTS: We describe a Hib genome isolated from a 6-year-old Anglo-Saxon plague victim, from approximately 540 to 550 CE, Edix Hill, England, showing signs of invasive infection on its skeleton. We find that the genome clusters in phylogenetic division II with Hib strain NCTC8468, which also caused invasive disease. While the virulence profile of our genome was distinct, its genomic similarity to NCTC8468 points to mostly clonal evolution of the clade since the 6th century. We also reconstruct a partial Yersinia pestis genome, which is likely identical to a published first plague pandemic genome of Edix Hill. CONCLUSIONS: Our study presents the earliest genomic evidence for H. influenzae, points to the potential presence of larger genomic diversity in the phylogenetic division II serotype b clade in the past, and allows the first insights into the evolutionary history of this major human pathogen. The identification of both plague and Hib opens questions on the effect of plague in immunocompromised individuals already affected by infectious diseases. / status: published

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