Characteristics of the organism and its antigens

K. pneumoniae grows as lactose-fermenting colonies on differential enteric isolation media. It is non-motile, i.e. it does not produce flagellar (H) antigens. Encapsulated K. pneumoniae appear quite opaque and mucoid when growing on laboratory agar. These organisms are virulent in humans and animal models. Avirulent K. pneumoniae (those which produce no capsules) appear smaller and translucent on similar agar surfaces. K. pneumoniae produces both O (somatic) and K (capsular) antigens. The term K antigen comes from the German, Kapsule, and was first used to describe the polysaccharide antigens of enteric bacilli. The O antigen is a polymer of repeating oligosaccharide units of several monosaccharides. There are at least eight different O antigen types. The K or capsular antigen of K. pneumoniae can be seen by employing the India ink stain, which is comprised primarily of carbon particles. These polysaccharide antigens are used primarily for serotyping. There are at least 77 known antigens. Epidemiologic studies have demonstrated a predominance of certain serotypes in human infections.

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