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DNA Evidence Shows Thousands of Cases Traceable To One Superspreader Event


Stuck In The Circle
DP Veteran
Nov 28, 2011
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Original Paper:
Phylogenetic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 in the Boston area highlights the role of recurrent importation and superspreading events

Articles describing the paper:
Thousands of Coronavirus Infections Stemmed from a Biotech Event | The Scientist Magazine(R)

A team of 50 medical researchers found that a single "superspreader" event wound up spreading the virus far and wide, possibly as much as 20,000 cases in the Boston area alone. This may have comprised nearly 40% of all Boston-area cases.

In February, a meeting of 175 employees and guests of Biogen met for a multi-day event in Boston. At least one, an employee visiting from Italy, wound up spreading the virus to multiple employees. It then spread throughout the meeting, then through parts of the Boston area (including two homeless shelters). As travelers went home, it wound up in "Tennessee, North Carolina, Indiana, New Jersey, Washington, DC" and abroad.

Researchers may have even caught the virus in the process of mutating, as one attendee had two variants of the virus in his lungs (one derived from the other, of course).

The researchers did find one early case from China, and two early cases from Italy and Switzerland -- none of which wound up spreading further. The variant which spread at the Biogen event ("C2416T") was traced back to the variant "G25563T, a lineage that was widely distributed in Europe in January and February 2020."

Obviously, there is a lot to learn from this -- not the least of which is that when we aren't taking proper precautions, one or two individuals at a single event can wind up spreading to a huge number of people.

It's also instructive on the importance of using DNA to track how SARS-CoV-2 spreads, sometimes in ways that are predictable (lots of people milling together for days in a row indoors = huge chance of spread) and others that are not (the virus didn't wind up spreading directly from China to Boston, it wound up going through Europe first).
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