Background: The ongoing injection drug use (IDU) crisis in the United States has been complicated by an emerging epidemic of Staphylococcus aureus IDU-associated bloodstream infections (IDU-BSI). Methods: We performed a case-control study comparing S. aureus IDU-BSI and non-IDU BSI cases identified in a large US Midwestern academic medical center between Jan 1, 2016 and Dec 21, 2019. We obtained the whole-genome sequences of 154 S. aureus IDU-BSI and 91 S. aureus non-IDU BSI cases, which were matched with clinical data. We performed phylogenetic and comparative genomic analyses to investigate clonal expansion of lineages and molecular features characteristic of IDU-BSI isolates. Results: Here we show that patients with IDU-BSI experience longer durations of bacteremia and have lower medical therapy completion rates. In phylogenetic analyses, 45/154 and 1/91 contemporaneous IDU-BSI and non-IDU BSI staphylococcal isolates, respectively, group into multiple, unique clonal clusters, revealing that pathogen community transmission distinctively spurs IDU-BSI. Lastly, multiple S. aureus lineages deficient in canonical virulence genes are overrepresented among IDU-BSI, which may contribute to the distinguishable clinical presentation of IDU-BSI cases. Conclusions: We identify clonal expansion of multiple S. aureus lineages among IDU-BSI isolates, but not non-IDU BSI isolates, in a community with limited access to needle exchange facilities. In the setting of expanding numbers of staphylococcal IDU-BSI cases consideration should be given to treating IDU-associated invasive staphylococcal infections as a communicable disease.

Original languageEnglish
Article number52
JournalCommunications Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


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