Background: An outbreak of tuberculosis occurred over a 3-year period in a medium-size community in British Columbia, Canada. The results of mycobacterial interspersed repetitive unit-variable-number tandem-repeat (MIRU-VNTR) genotyping suggested the outbreak was clonal. Traditional contact tracing did not identify a source. We used whole-genome sequencing and social-network analysis in an effort to describe the outbreak dynamics at a higher resolution.
Methods: We sequenced the complete genomes of 32 Mycobacterium tuberculosis outbreak isolates and 4 historical isolates (from the same region but sampled before the outbreak) with matching genotypes, using short-read sequencing. Epidemiologic and genomic data were overlaid on a social network constructed by means of interviews with patients to determine the origins and transmission dynamics of the outbreak.
Results: Whole-genome data revealed two genetically distinct lineages of M. tuberculosis with identical MIRU-VNTR genotypes, suggesting two concomitant outbreaks. Integration of social-network and phylogenetic analyses revealed several transmission events, including those involving "superspreaders." Both lineages descended from a common ancestor and had been detected in the community before the outbreak, suggesting a social, rather than genetic, trigger. Further epidemiologic investigation revealed that the onset of the outbreak coincided with a recorded increase in crack cocaine use in the community.
Conclusions: Through integration of large-scale bacterial whole-genome sequencing and social-network analysis, we show that a socioenvironmental factor--most likely increased crack cocaine use--triggered the simultaneous expansion of two extant lineages of M. tuberculosis that was sustained by key members of a high-risk social network. Genotyping and contact tracing alone did not capture the true dynamics of the outbreak. (Funded by Genome British Columbia and others.).