Mark R Davies, Matthew T Holden, Paul Coupland, Jonathan H K Chen, Carola Venturini, Timothy C Barnett, Nouri L Ben Zakour, Herman Tse, Gordon Dougan, Kwok-Yung Yuen & Mark J Walker
A scarlet fever outbreak began in mainland China and Hong Kong in 2011 (refs. 1–6). Macrolide- and tetracycline-resistant Streptococcus pyogenes emm12 isolates represent the majority of clinical cases. Recently, we identified two mobile genetic elements that were closely associated with emm12 outbreak isolates: the integrative and conjugative element ICE-emm12, encoding genes for tetracycline and macrolide resistance, and prophage ΦHKU.vir, encoding the superantigens SSA and SpeC, as well as the DNase Spd1 (ref. 4). Here we sequenced the genomes of 141 emm12 isolates, including 132 isolated in Hong Kong between 2005 and 2011. We found that the introduction of several ICE-emm12 variants, ΦHKU.vir and a new prophage, ΦHKU.ssa, occurred in three distinct emm12 lineages late in the twentieth century. Acquisition of ssa and transposable elements encoding multidrug resistance genes triggered the expansion of scarlet fever–associated emm12 lineages in Hong Kong. The occurrence of multidrug-resistant ssa-harboring scarlet fever strains should prompt heightened surveillance within China and abroad for the dissemination of these mobile genetic elements.