University of Limerick
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Repeated transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in an overcrowded Irish emergency department elucidated by whole-genome sequencing

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-09-21, 11:27 authored by D Hare, C Meaney, J. Powell, B. Slevin, B. O’ Brien, L. Power, N.H. O’ Connell, C.F. De Gascun, COLUM DUNNECOLUM DUNNE, P.J. Stapleton

Aim: To provide a detailed genomic-epidemiological description of a complex multi-ward SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, which originated in the crowded emergency department (ED) in our hospital during the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and was elucidated promptly by local whole-genome sequencing (WGS).

Methods: SARS-CoV-2 was detected by reverse transcriptase real-time polymerase chain reaction on viral RNA extracted from nasopharyngeal swabs. WGS was performed using an Oxford MinION Mk1C instrument following the ARTIC v3 sequencing protocol. High-quality consensus genomes were assembled with the artic-ncov2019 bioinformatics pipeline and viral phylogenetic trees were built, inferred by maximum-likelihood. Clusters were defined using a threshold of 0e1 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) between epidemiologically linked sequences.

Results: In April 2021, outbreaks of COVID-19 were declared on two wards at University Hospital Limerick after 4 healthcare-associated SARS-CoV-2 infections were detected by post-admission surveillance testing. Contact tracing identified 12 further connected cases; all with direct or indirect links to the ED ‘COVID Zone’. All sequences were assigned to the Pangolin B.1.1.7 lineage by WGS, and SNP-level analysis revealed two distinct but simul?taneous clusters of infections. Repeated transmission in the ED was demonstrated, involving patients accommodated on trolleys in crowded areas, resulting in multiple generations of infections across three inpatient hospital wards and subsequently to the local community. These findings informed mitigation efforts to prevent cross-transmission in the ED.

Conclusion: Cross-transmission of SARS-CoV-2 occurred repeatedly in an overcrowded emergency department. Viral WGS elucidated complex viral transmission networks in our hospital and informed infection, prevention and control practice.



Journal of Hospital Infection, 2022, 126, pp.1-9



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