Teaming up with genomics to solve outbreaks

Jennifer Gardy of the British Columbia Center for Disease Control, presented a case study where she and her colleagues used a technique combining genome sequencing and social network analysis to contain a tuberculosis outbreak. Taking place in a medium-sized community in British Columbia, the researchers turned to the technique after finding traditional epidemiological methods rather ineffective. Combining social network analysis with genome sequencing allowed the researchers to paint a more detailed picture of the epidemic’s underlying structure.

The researchers eventually determined that the outbreak was likely not instigated by genetic changes to the pathogen, but instead likely due to tendencies in the community interaction. Additionally they were able to determine that a few key individuals acted as superspreaders, and these people were socially well connected and sympotmatic for long periods of time. This information is being used in a current outbreak investigation where public health officials are trying to target socially popular people for screening as a priority.

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