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medrxiv; 2022.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2022.10.17.22281175


Mathematical modeling studies have shown that repetitive screening can be used to mitigate SARS-CoV-2 transmission in primary schools while keeping schools open. However, not much is known about how transmission progresses within schools and whether there is a risk of importation to households. In this study, we reconstructed outbreaks observed during a prospective study in a primary school and associated households in Liege (Belgium) during the academic year 2020-2021. In addition we performed a simulation study to investigate how the accuracy of estimated weekly positivity rates in a school depends on the proportion of a school that is sampled in a repetitive screening strategy. We found that transmission occurred mainly within the school environment and that observed positivity rates are a good approximation to the true positivity rate, especially in children. This study shows that it is worthwile to implement repetitive testing in school settings, which in addition to reducing infections can lead to a better understanding of the extent of transmission in schools during a pandemic and importation risk at the community level.

medrxiv; 2022.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2022.05.31.22275802


The emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant of concern (lineage B.1.617.2) in late 2020 resulted in a new wave of infections in many countries across the world, where it often became the dominant lineage in a relatively short amount of time. We here report on a novel genomic surveillance effort in Rwanda in the time period from June to September 2021, leading to 201 SARS-CoV-2 genomes being generated, the majority of which were identified as the Delta variant of concern. We show that in Rwanda, the Delta variant almost completely replaced the previously dominant A.23.1 and B.1.351 (Beta) lineages in a matter of weeks, and led to a tripling of the total number of COVID-19 infections and COVID-19-related fatalities over the course of only three months. We estimate that Delta in Rwanda had an average growth rate advantage of 0.034 (95% CI 0.025-0.045) per day over A.23.1, and of 0.022 (95% CI 0.012-0.032) over B.1.351. Phylogenetic analysis reveals the presence of at least seven local Delta transmission clusters, with two of these clusters occurring close to the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and another cluster close to the border with Tanzania. A smaller Delta cluster of infections also appeared close to the border with Uganda, illustrating the importance of monitoring cross-border traffic to limit the spread between Rwanda and its neighboring countries. We discuss our findings against a background of increased vaccination efforts in Rwanda, and also discuss a number of breakthrough infections identified during our study. Concluding, our study has added an important collection of data to the available genomes for the Eastern Africa region, with the number of Delta infections close to the border with neighboring countries highlighting the need to further strengthen genomic surveillance in the region to obtain a better understanding of the impact of border crossings on lowering the epidemic curve in Rwanda.

Breakthrough Pain , Hepatitis D , COVID-19
medrxiv; 2021.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2021.04.02.21254839


The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), responsible for coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19), is a single-stranded positive-sense ribonucleic acid (RNA) virus that typically undergoes one to two single nucleotide mutations per month. COVID-19 continues to spread globally, with case fatality and test positivity rates often linked to locally circulating strains of SARS-CoV-2. Furthermore, mutations in this virus, in particular those occurring in the spike protein (involved in the virus binding to the host epithelial cells) have potential implications in current vaccination efforts. In Rwanda, more than twenty thousand cases have been confirmed as of March 14th 2021, with a case fatality rate of 1.4% and test positivity rate of 2.3% while the recovery rate is at 91.9%. Rwanda started its genomic surveillance efforts, taking advantage of pre-existing research projects and partnerships, to ensure early detection of SARS-CoV-2 variants and to potentially contain the spread of variants of concern (VOC). As a result of this initiative, we here present 203 SARS-CoV-2 whole genome sequences analyzed from strains circulating in the country from May 2020 to February 2021. In particular, we report a shift in variant distribution towards the newly emerging sub-lineage A.23.1 that is currently dominating. Furthermore, we report the detection of the first Rwandan cases of the VOCs, B.1.1.7 and B.1.351, among incoming travelers tested at Kigali International Airport. We also discuss the potential impact of COVID-19 control measures established in the country to control the spread of the virus. To assess the importance of viral introductions from neighboring countries and local transmission, we exploit available individual travel history metadata to inform spatio-temporal phylogeographic inference, enabling us to take into account infections from unsampled locations during the time frame of interest. We uncover an important role of neighboring countries in seeding introductions into Rwanda, including those from which no genomic sequences are currently available or that no longer report positive cases. Our results point to the importance of systematically screening all incoming travelers, regardless of the origin of their travels as well as regional considerations for durable response to COVID-19.

Coronavirus Infections , COVID-19
biorxiv; 2020.
Preprint in English | bioRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2020.05.05.078758


Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented number of genomic sequences of the causative virus (SARS-CoV-2) have been generated and shared with the scientific community. The unparalleled volume of available genetic data presents a unique opportunity to gain real-time insights into the virus transmission during the pandemic, but also a daunting computational hurdle if analysed with gold-standard phylogeographic approaches. We here describe and apply an analytical pipeline that is a compromise between fast and rigorous analytical steps. As a proof of concept, we focus on the Belgium epidemic, with one of the highest spatial density of available SARS-CoV-2 genomes. At the global scale, our analyses confirm the importance of external introduction events in establishing multiple transmission chains in the country. At the country scale, our spatially-explicit phylogeographic analyses highlight that the national lockdown had a relatively low impact on both the lineage dispersal velocity and the long-distance dispersal events within Belgium. Our pipeline has the potential to be quickly applied to other countries or regions, with key benefits in complementing epidemiological analyses in assessing the impact of intervention measures or their progressive easement.

medrxiv; 2020.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppzbmed-10.1101.2020.04.28.20083337


Control of the ongoing severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic requires accurate laboratory testing to identify infected individuals, while also clearing essential staff to continue work. At the current time a number of qRT-PCR assays have been developed to identify SARS-CoV-2, targeting multiple positions in the viral genome. While the mutation rate of SARS-CoV-2 is moderate, given the large number of transmission chains it is prudent to monitor circulating viruses for variants that might compromise these assays. Here we report the identification of a C-to-T transition at position 26,340 of the SARS-CoV-2 genome which is associated with failure of the cobas SARS-CoV-2 E-gene qRT-PCR in eight patients. As the cobas SARS-CoV-2 assay targets two positions in the genome, the individuals carrying this variant were still called as SARS-CoV-2 positive. Whole genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 showed all to carry closely related viruses. Examination of viral genomes deposited on GISAID showed this mutation has arisen independently at least four times. This work highlights the necessity of monitoring SARS-CoV-2 for the emergence of SNPs which might adversely affect RT-PCRs used in diagnostics. Additionally, it argues that two regions in SARS-CoV-2 should be targeted to avoid false negatives.