Characterization of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) Infection Clusters Based on Integrated Genomic Surveillance, Outbreak Analysis and Contact Tracing in an Urban Setting

Clin Infect Dis. 2022 Mar 23;74(6):1039-1046. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciab588.


Background: Tracing of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) transmission chains is still a major challenge for public health authorities, when incidental contacts are not recalled or are not perceived as potential risk contacts. Viral sequencing can address key questions about SARS-CoV-2 evolution and may support reconstruction of viral transmission networks by integration of molecular epidemiology into classical contact tracing.

Methods: In collaboration with local public health authorities, we set up an integrated system of genomic surveillance in an urban setting, combining a) viral surveillance sequencing, b) genetically based identification of infection clusters in the population, c) integration of public health authority contact tracing data, and d) a user-friendly dashboard application as a central data analysis platform.

Results: Application of the integrated system from August to December 2020 enabled a characterization of viral population structure, analysis of 4 outbreaks at a maximum care hospital, and genetically based identification of 5 putative population infection clusters, all of which were confirmed by contact tracing. The system contributed to the development of improved hospital infection control and prevention measures and enabled the identification of previously unrecognized transmission chains, involving a martial arts gym and establishing a link between the hospital to the local population.

Conclusions: Integrated systems of genomic surveillance could contribute to the monitoring and, potentially, improved management of SARS-CoV-2 transmission in the population.

Keywords: Nanopore sequencing; community transmission; genomic epidemiology; infection chain; rapid sequencing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Contact Tracing
  • Disease Outbreaks / prevention & control
  • Genomics
  • Humans
  • SARS-CoV-2* / genetics