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Emerg Microbes Infect ; 11(1): 689-698, 2022 Dec.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1713523


During the investigation of a pet shop outbreak of severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) with probable hamster-to-human transmission, the environmental and hamster samples in epidemiologically linked pet shops were found positive for SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant AY.127 strains which are phylogenetically closely related to patients and reported European strains. This interspecies' spill-over has triggered transmission in 58 patients epidemiologically linked to three pet shops. Incidentally, three dwarf hamsters imported from the Netherlands and centralized in a warehouse distributing animals to pet shops were positive for SARS-CoV-2 spike variant phylogenetically related to European B.1.258 strains from March 2020. This B.1.258 strain almost disappeared in July 2021. While no hamster-to-human transmission of B.1.258-like strain was found in this outbreak, molecular docking showed that its spike receptor-binding domain (RBD) has a similar binding energy to human ACE2 compared to that of Delta variant AY.127. Therefore, the potential of this B.1.258-related spike variant for interspecies jumping cannot be ignored. The co-circulation of B.1.258-related spike variants with Delta AY.127, which originated in Europe and was not previously found in Hong Kong, suggested that hamsters in our wholesale warehouse and retail pet shops more likely have acquired these viruses in the Netherlands or stopovers during delivery by aviation than locally. The risk of human-to-hamster reverse zoonosis by multiple SARS-CoV-2 variants leading to further adaptive spike mutations with subsequent transmission back to humans cannot be underestimated as an outbreak source of COVID-19. Testing imported pet animals susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 is warranted to prevent future outbreaks.

COVID-19 , SARS-CoV-2 , Animals , Cricetinae , Hong Kong , Humans , Molecular Docking Simulation , SARS-CoV-2/genetics , Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus/chemistry
J Virol Methods ; 299: 114333, 2022 01.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1525873


The increasing prevalence of N501Y variants of SARS-CoV-2 has kindled global concern due to their enhanced transmissibility. Genome sequencing is the gold standard method to identify the emerging variants of concern. But it is time-consuming and expensive, limiting the widespread deployment of genome surveillance in some countries. Health authorities surge the development of alternative assay to expand screening capacity with reduced time and cost. In this study, we developed an in-house TaqMan minor groove binder (MGB) probe-based one-step RT-qPCR assay to detect the presence of N501Y mutation in SARS-CoV-2. A total of 168 SARS-CoV-2 positive respiratory specimens were collected to determine diagnostic accuracy of the RT-qPCR assay. As a reference standard, PANGO lineages and the mutation patterns of all samples were characterised by whole-genome sequencing. The analytical sensitivity and the ability of the assay to detect low frequency of N501Y variants were also evaluated. A total of 31 PANGO lineages were identified from 168 SARS-CoV-2 positive cases, in which 34 samples belonged to N501Y variants, including B.1.1.7 (n = 20), B.1.351 (n = 12) and P.3 (n = 2). The N501Y RT-qPCR correctly identified all 34 samples as N501Y-positive and the other 134 samples as wildtype. The limit-of-detection of the assay consistently achieved 1.5 copies/µL on four different qPCR platforms. N501Y mutation was successfully detected at an allele frequency as low as 10 % in a sample with mixed SARS-CoV-2 lineage. The N501Y RT-qPCR is simple and inexpensive (US$1.6 per sample). It enables robust high-throughput screening for surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern harbouring N501Y mutation.

COVID-19 , SARS-CoV-2 , Humans , Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction , Whole Genome Sequencing