Four hundred and seven clinical isolates of Escherichia coli were examined for the presence of plasmids. These isolates comprised 189 which were collected irrespective of antimicrobial resistance (VP) and 218 which were collected on the basis of high-level trimethoprim resistance (TPR). The VP isolates were divided into drug sensitive (VPS) and drug-resistant (VPR) subpopulations.
Plasmids were detected in 88% of VP isolates (81% of VPS and 94% of VPR) and 98% of TPR isolates. The distribution of plasmids in both groups and subpopulations was very similar. However, there were small but statistically significant differences between the plasmid distributions. These showed that more isolates in the resistant groups harboured plasmids than in the sensitive subpopulation (VPS) and that the number of plasmids carried by resistant isolates was greater. Multiple drug resistance was significantly more common among TPR isolates than the VPR subpopulation and this was paralleled by increased numbers of plasmids.
Fifty-eight per cent of VPR and 57% of TPR isolates transferred antimicrobial resistance and plasmids to E. coli K12. Of the R+ isolates, 60% carried small plasmids (MW < 20Md) and 52% of these co-transferred with R-plasmids. These results are discussed.