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medrxiv; 2022.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2022.02.02.22269960


Introduction Prisons are susceptible to outbreaks. Control measures focusing on isolation and cohorting negatively affect wellbeing. We present an outbreak of COVID-19 in a large male prison in Wales, UK, 14 October 2020 to 21 April 2021, and discuss control measures. Methods We gathered case-information, including: demographics, staff-residence postcode, resident cell number, work areas/dates, test results, staff interview dates/notes and resident prison-transfer dates. Epidemiological curves were mapped by prison location. Control measures included isolation (exclusion from work or cell-isolation), cohorting (new admissions and work-area groups), asymptomatic testing (case-finding), removal of communal dining and movement restrictions. Facemask use and enhanced hygiene were already in place. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) and interviews determined genetic relationship between cases plausibility of transmission. Results Of 453 cases, 53% (n=242) were staff, most aged 25-34 years (11.5% females, 27.15% males) and symptomatic (64%). Crude attack-rate was higher in staff (29%, 95%CI: 26-64%) than in residents (12%, 95%CI: 9-15%). Conclusions Whole genome sequencing can help differentiate multiple introductions from person-to-person transmission in prisons. It should be introduced alongside asymptomatic testing as soon as possible to control prison outbreaks. Timely epidemiological investigation, including data visualization, allowed dynamic risk assessment and proportionate control measures, minimizing reduction in resident welfare.

Genomic Instability
medrxiv; 2021.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2021.06.21.21259010


The adaptive immune system protects against infection via selection of specific antigen receptors on B-cells and T-cells. We studied the prevalent CD8 killer T-cell response mounted against SARS-CoV-2 Spike269-277 epitope YLQPRTFLL via the most frequent Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) class I worldwide, HLA A*02. The widespread Spike P272L mutation has arisen in five different SARS-CoV-2 lineages to date and was common in the B.1.177 lineage associated with establishing the second wave in Europe. The large CD8 T-cell response seen across a cohort of HLA A*02+ convalescent patients, comprising of over 120 different TCRs, failed to respond to the P272L variant suggesting that proline 272 dominates TCR contacts with this epitope. Additionally, sizable populations (0.01%-0.2%) of total CD8 T-cells from individuals vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 stained with HLA A*02-YLQPRTFLL multimers but failed to bind to the P272L reagent. Viral escape at prevalent T-cell epitopes restricted by high frequency HLA may be particularly problematic when vaccine immunity is focussed on a single protein such as SARS-CoV-2 Spike and provides a strong argument for inclusion of multiple viral proteins in next generation vaccines and highlights the urgent need for monitoring T-cell escape in new SARS-CoV-2 variants.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
medrxiv; 2021.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2021.03.22.21254006


Currently the primary method for confirming acute SARS-CoV-2 infection is through the use of molecular assays that target highly conserved regions within the viral genome. Many, if not most of the diagnostic targets currently in use were produced early in the pandemic, using genomes sequenced and shared in early 2020. As viral diversity increases, mutations may arise in diagnostic target sites that have an impact on the performance of diagnostic tests. Here, we report on a local outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 which had gained an additional mutation at position 28890 of the nucleocapsid protein, on a background of pre-existing mutations at positions 28881, 28882, 28883 in one of the main circulating viral lineages in Wales at that time. The impact of this additional mutation had a statistically significant impact on the Ct value reported for the N gene target designed by the Chinese CDC and used in a number of commercial diagnostic products. Further investigation identified that, in viral genomes sequenced from Wales over the summer of 2020, the N gene had a higher rate of mutations in diagnostic target sites than other targets, with 115 issues identified affecting over 10% of all cases sequenced between February and the end of August 2020. In comparison an issue was identified for ORFab, the next most affected target, in less than 1.4% of cases over the same time period. This work emphasises the potential impact that mutations in diagnostic target sites can have on tracking local outbreaks, as well as demonstrating the value of genomics as a routine tool for identifying and explaining potential diagnostic primer issues as part of a laboratory quality management system. This work also indicates that with increasing genomic sequencing data availability, there is a need to re-evaluate the diagnostic targets that are in use for SARS-CoV-2 testing, to better target regions that are now demonstrated to be of lower variability.

medrxiv; 2020.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2020.10.23.20218446


The UK's COVID-19 epidemic during early 2020 was one of world's largest and unusually well represented by virus genomic sampling. Here we reveal the fine-scale genetic lineage structure of this epidemic through analysis of 50,887 SARS-CoV-2 genomes, including 26,181 from the UK sampled throughout the country's first wave of infection. Using large-scale phylogenetic analyses, combined with epidemiological and travel data, we quantify the size, spatio-temporal origins and persistence of genetically-distinct UK transmission lineages. Rapid fluctuations in virus importation rates resulted in >1000 lineages; those introduced prior to national lockdown were larger and more dispersed. Lineage importation and regional lineage diversity declined after lockdown, whilst lineage elimination was size-dependent. We discuss the implications of our genetic perspective on transmission dynamics for COVID-19 epidemiology and control.