Shewanella algae and Shewanella putrefaciens: clinical and microbiological characteristics


Corresponding author and reprint requests: H. M. Holt, Department of Clinical Microbiology, Odense University Hospital, Winsløvparken 21.2, DK 5000 Odense C, Denmark


The occurrence of the two Shewanella species found in clinical specimens, Shewanella algae and Shewanella putrefaciens, correlates with the temperature and salinity of seawater. This means that Shewanella infections occur in warm climates or during especially warm summers in temperate climates. The infections described most commonly involve ears, skin and soft tissue, with or without bacteraemia. Primary bacteraemia with a fulminant course is also seen in immunocompromised patients. Important differential characteristics between the two species include the ability of S. algae to produce mucoid colonies with β-haemolysis on sheep blood agar, to grow at 42°C and in NaCl 6% w/v, and to reduce nitrite, and an inability to produce acid from maltose, all of which are in contrast to the characteristics of S. putrefaciens. Automated identification systems fail to differentiate between S. algae and S. putrefaciens, as S. algae is not included in the databases of these systems. Presumably for this reason, most Shewanella infections reported during recent years have been attributed to S. putrefaciens. However, when extensive phenotypic characterisation is performed, most human infections are seen to be caused by S. algae. As the two species seem to have different pathogenic potential for humans, correct identification is important, and this is possible in routine clinical microbiology laboratories.