Serratia are a group of bacteria, family Enterobacteriaceae, commonly found in water, soil, decaying vegetation, meat, and food. Some species are pathogenic. The bacterium was named in honor of an Italian physicist Serrati who invented the steamboat. Serratia strains are spread through person-to-person contact, by inhalation and by contaminated water in hospital environment.

Serratia appear to occur seasonally in private wells, distribution systems, and bottled water. Bacterial colonies occur on ice machines, humidifying units and hemodialysis equipment. The persistence of Serratia in tap water is about 100 days. In distilled water these organisms may survive for 48 days at room temperature1.

Human Pathogens

Serratia marcescens is the only pathogenic species causing human infections. It has been associated with outbreaks of meningitis, wound infections, and arthritis in pediatric wards. This organism is responsible for nearly 2% of all hospital-acquired infections of urinary tract, respiratory tract, skin, and soft tissue in immunocompromised patients, cancer patients, patients receiving corticosteroid therapy, COPD patients, and diabetics.2 The bacterium is not a normal component of microbiome of human gut.3

SerratiaSerratia Source: CDC/ Dr. Negut

Plant Pathogens

Serratia marcescens has been identified as the causative agent of cucurbit yellow vine disease (CYVD)) which results in extensive crop loss to cantaloupe, pumpkin, squash and watermelon. Initial symptoms usually occur 10 to 15 days before maturity. Foliage rapidly turns a lime green, then bright yellow. Plants show stunted growth; older leaves be be blighted or burned in appearance; the root system will rot. The bacterium is spread by squash bug (Anasa tristis). It is interesting that Serratia marcescens is commonly found on cotton and rice without causing disease; it is a crown rot pathogen on alfalfa.4

Animal Pathogen

Serratia marcescens has been found responsible for infrequent cases of bovine mastitis and other uncommon infections in domestic and wild animals. It causes septicemia (bloodstream invasion) in chickens and is believed to cause infections in geckos and tortoises.5

Food Contaminants

Serratia marcescens has the distinction of playing a prominent role in religious history. For over 700 years, blood-red liquid drops appeared on sacramental bread and wafers. Explication arrived in 1879 when Bartolomeo Bizzio conducted a series of tests and found that the reddish matter on polenta was produced by bacteria which he named Serratia marcescens. Serratia species have occasionally been associated with gastroenteritis ("food poisoning").6


  1. Steven L. Percival. Microbiology of waterborne diseases
  2. A. Parija. Textbook of Microbiology & Immunology
  3. Dongyou Liu. Molecular Detection of Foodborne Pathogens
  4. Steven T. Koike, Peter Gladders, Albert O. Paulus. Vegetable diseases
  5. Gordon R. Carter, Darla J. Wise. Essentials of veterinary bacteriology and mycology
  6. Code of Federal Regulations Revised as of April 1, 2005 Official U.S. Government edition



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