A new virus has been identified from Wuhan City in China from the Coronavirus family (2019-nCoV), which as of February 6th, 2020 is responsible for over 28,000 cases in over 25 countries and growing, including five cases in Canada. Public health agencies are on high alert and the World Health Organization has declared 2019-nCoV a global public health emergency. In British Columbia, the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) is at the front lines of the response to infectious disease, performing diagnostic testing. An additional critical dimension of information for outbreak response can be revealed by genomic analysis and will be piloted in this Genome BC-funded project by three BCCDC-affiliated investigators at UBC, Dr. Mel Krajden, Dr. Richard Harrigan, and Dr. Natalie Prystajecky.
Sequencing the whole genome of viruses can enable researchers to determine how strains of a virus between patients are related, an approach called phylogenetic analysis. This type of analysis of the evolutionary relationships between viruses can provide important insights into how a virus is spreading, including revealing "clusters" of closely related viruses and whether new infections represent new introductions of the virus into BC or the spread of existing strains. These insights are essential for guiding targeted interventions to stop further transmission and evaluating the efficacy of existing infection control measures. By developing these tools on a rapid sequencing platform, the BCCDC will improve its agility and potentially be mobile in its analysis of viral transmission. This work will not only help the BCCDC respond to this emergency, but also to other current and future epidemics.