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Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppbiorxiv-481609


The first SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern (VOC) to be designated was lineage B.1.1.7, later labelled by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as Alpha. Originating in early Autumn but discovered in December 2020, it spread rapidly and caused large waves of infections worldwide. The Alpha variant is notable for being defined by a long ancestral phylogenetic branch with an increased evolutionary rate, along which only two sequences have been sampled. Alpha genomes comprise a well-supported monophyletic clade within which the evolutionary rate is more typical of SARS-CoV-2. The Alpha epidemic continued to grow despite the continued restrictions on social mixing across the UK, and the imposition of new restrictions, in particular the English national lockdown in November 2020. While these interventions succeeded in reducing the absolute number of cases, the impact of these non-pharmaceutical interventions was predominantly to drive the decline of the SARS-CoV-2 lineages which preceded Alpha. We investigate the only two sampled sequences that fall on the branch ancestral to Alpha. We find that one is likely to be a true intermediate sequence, providing information about the order of mutational events that led to Alpha. We explore alternate hypotheses that can explain how Alpha acquired a large number of mutations yet remained largely unobserved in a region of high genomic surveillance: an under-sampled geographical location, a non-human animal population, or a chronically-infected individual. We conclude that the last hypothesis provides the best explanation of the observed behaviour and dynamics of the variant, although we find that the individual need not be immunocompromised, as persistently-infected immunocompetent hosts also display a higher within-host rate of evolution. Finally, we compare the ancestral branches and mutation profiles of other VOCs to each other, and identify that Delta appears to be an outlier both in terms of the genomic locations of its defining mutations, and its lack of rapid evolutionary rate on the ancestral branch. As new variants, such as Omicron, continue to evolve (potentially through similar mechanisms) it remains important to investigate the origins of other variants to identify ways to potentially disrupt their evolution and emergence.

Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-21253590


BackgroundMitigation of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from international travel is a priority. Travellers from countries with travel restrictions (closed travel-corridors) were required to quarantine for 14 days over Summer 2020 in England. We describe the genomic epidemiology of travel-related cases in England and evaluate the effectiveness of this travel policy. MethodsBetween 27/05/2020 and 13/09/2020, probable travel-related SARS-CoV-2 cases and their contacts were identified and combined with UK SARS-CoV-2 sequencing data. The epidemiology and demographics of cases was identified, and the number of contacts per case modelled using negative binomial regression to estimate the effect of travel restriction, and any variation by age, sex and calendar date. Unique travel-related SARS-CoV-2 genomes in the COG-UK dataset were identified to estimate the effect travel restrictions on cluster size generated from these. The Polecat Clustering Tool was used to identify a travel-related SARS-CoV-2 cluster of infection. Findings4,207 travel-related SARS-CoV-2 cases are identified. 51.2% (2155/4207) of cases reported travel to one of three countries; 21.0% (882) Greece, 16.3% (685) Croatia and 14.0% (589) Spain. Median number of contacts per case was 3 (IQR 1-5), and greatest for the 16-20 age-group (9.0, 95% C.I.=5.6-14.5), which saw the largest attenuation by travel restriction. Travel restriction was associated with a 40% (rate ratio=0.60, 95% C.I.=0.37-0.95) lower rate of contacts. 827/4207 (19.7%) of cases had high-quality SARS-CoV-2 genomes available. Fewer genomically-linked cases were observed for index cases related to countries with travel restrictions compared to cases from non-travel restriction countries (rate ratio=0.17, 95% C.I.=0.05-0.52). A large travel-related cluster dispersed across England is identified through genomics, confirmed with contact-tracing data. InterpretationThis study demonstrates the efficacy of travel restriction policy in reducing the onward transmission of imported cases. FundingWellcome Trust, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, UK Research & Innovation, National Institute of Health Research, Wellcome Sanger Institute. RESEARCH IN CONTEXTO_ST_ABSEvidence before this studyC_ST_ABSWe searched PubMed, medRxiv, bioRxiv, Web of Science and Scopus for the terms (COVID-19 OR SARS-COV-2) AND (imported or importation) AND (sequenc* OR genom* or WGS). We filtered the 55 articles identified through this search and rejected any that did not undertake SARS-CoV-2 sequencing as part of an epidemiological investigation for importation into a different country. The remaining 20 papers were reviewed in greater detail to understand the patterns of importation and the methods used in each case. Added value of this studyThis is the first published study on importations of SARS-CoV-2 into England using genomics. Plessis et al., (2021) used a predictive model to infer the number of importations in to the UK from all SARS-CoV-2 genomes generated before 26th June 2020. The current study assesses the period 27/05/2020 to 13/09/2020 and presents findings of case-reported travel linked to genomic data. Two unpublished reports exist for Wales and Scotland, although only examine a comparatively small number of importations. Implications of all the available evidenceThis large-scale study has a number of findings that are pertinent to public health and of global significance, not available from prior evidence to our knowledge. The study demonstrates travel restrictions, through the implementation of travel-corridors, are effective in reducing the number of contacts per case based on observational data. Age has a significant effect on the number of contacts and this can be mitigated with travel restrictions. Analysis of divergent clusters indicates travel restrictions can reduce the number of onwards cases following a travel-associated case. Analysis of divergent clusters can allow for importations to be identified from genomics, as subsequently evidenced by cluster characteristics derived from contact tracing. The majority of importations of SARS-CoV-2 in England over Summer 2020 were from coastal European countries. The highest number of cases and onward contacts were from Greece, which was largely exempt from self-isolation requirements (bar some islands in September at the end of the study period). Systematic monitoring of imported SARS-CoV-2 cases would help refine implementation of travel restrictions. Finally, along with multiple studies, this study highlights the use of genomics to monitor and track importations of SARS-CoV-2 mutations of interest; this will be of particular use as the repertoire of clinically relevant SARS-CoV-2 variants expand over time and globally.

Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-20201475


The COVID-19 pandemic has spread rapidly throughout the world. In the UK, the initial peak was in April 2020; in the county of Norfolk (UK) and surrounding areas, which has a stable, low-density population, over 3,200 cases were reported between March and August 2020. As part of the activities of the national COVID-19 Genomics Consortium (COG-UK) we undertook whole genome sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 genomes present in positive clinical samples from the Norfolk region. These samples were collected by four major hospitals, multiple minor hospitals, care facilities and community organisations within Norfolk and surrounding areas. We combined clinical metadata with the sequencing data from regional SARS-CoV-2 genomes to understand the origins, genetic variation, transmission and expansion (spread) of the virus within the region and provide context nationally. Data were fed back into the national effort for pandemic management, whilst simultaneously being used to assist local outbreak analyses. Overall, 1,565 positive samples (172 per 100,000 population) from 1,376 cases were evaluated; for 140 cases between two and six samples were available providing longitudinal data. This represented 42.6% of all positive samples identified by hospital testing in the region and encompassed those with clinical need, and health and care workers and their families. 1,035 cases had genome sequences of sufficient quality to provide phylogenetic lineages. These genomes belonged to 26 distinct global lineages, indicating that there were multiple separate introductions into the region. Furthermore, 100 genetically-distinct UK lineages were detected demonstrating local evolution, at a rate of [~]2 SNPs per month, and multiple co-occurring lineages as the pandemic progressed. Our analysis: identified a sublineage associated with 6 care facilities; found no evidence of reinfection in longitudinal samples; ruled out a nosocomial outbreak; identified 16 lineages in key workers which were not in patients indicating infection control measures were effective; found the D614G spike protein mutation which is linked to increased transmissibility dominates the samples and rapidly confirmed relatedness of cases in an outbreak at a food processing facility. The large-scale genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2-positive samples has provided valuable additional data for public health epidemiology in the Norfolk region, and will continue to help identify and untangle hidden transmission chains as the pandemic evolves. Major pointsIn Norfolk and surrounding regions O_LI100 distinct UK lineages were identified. C_LIO_LI16 UK lineages found in key workers were not observed in patients or in community care. C_LIO_LI172 genomes from SARS-CoV-2 positive samples sequenced per 100,000 population representing 42.6% of all positive cases. C_LIO_LISARS-CoV-2 genomes from 1035 cases sequenced to a high quality. C_LIO_LIOnly 5 countries, out of 103, have sequenced more SARS-CoV-2 genomes than have been sequenced in Norfolk for this paper. C_LIO_LISamples covered the entire first wave, March to August 2020. C_LIO_LIStable evolutionary rate of 2 SNPs per month. C_LIO_LID614G mutation is the dominant genotype and associated with increased transmission. C_LIO_LINo evidence of reinfection in 42 cases with longitudinal samples. C_LIO_LIWGS identified a sublineage associated with care facilities. C_LIO_LIWGS ruled out nosocomial outbreaks. C_LIO_LIRapid WGS confirmed the relatedness of cases from an outbreak at a food processing facility. C_LI

Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-20182279


COVID-19 poses a major challenge to care homes, as SARS-CoV-2 is readily transmitted and causes disproportionately severe disease in older people. Here, 1,167 residents from 337 care homes were identified from a dataset of 6,600 COVID-19 cases from the East of England. Older age and being a care home resident were associated with increased mortality. SARS-CoV-2 genomes were available for 700 residents from 292 care homes. By integrating genomic and temporal data, 409 viral clusters within the 292 homes were identified, indicating two different patterns - outbreaks among care home residents and independent introductions with limited onward transmission. Approximately 70% of residents in the genomic analysis were admitted to hospital during the study, providing extensive opportunities for transmission between care homes and hospitals. Limiting viral transmission within care homes should be a key target for infection control to reduce COVID-19 mortality in this population. Impact statementSARS-CoV-2 can spread efficiently within care homes causing COVID-19 outbreaks among residents, who are at increased risk of severe disease, emphasising the importance of stringent infection control in this population.