"Instead of getting a list of names, you are getting names, places and behaviors, and you can paint a much more detailed picture of the underlying structure. Key people and places and certain behaviors that might be contributing to an outbreak's spread become much more apparent and allow you to adjust your outbreak investigation in real time as this new information becomes available," says Gardy.
Using this new combinatorial technique, the researchers eventually determined that the outbreak was likely not instigated by genetic changes to the pathogen, but was instead likely due to increased usage of crack cocaine in the community. The disease was being transmitted in crack houses where people were coughing often while spending hours together in poorly ventilated rooms.
Additionally they were able to determine that a few key individuals acted as superspreaders, and these people were socially well connected and sympotmatic for long periods of time. This information is being used in a current outbreak investigation where public health officials are trying to target socially popular people for screening as a priority.
"We took an outbreak that was an absolute mystery by traditional methods and solved it using genome sequencing and social network analysis," says Gardy who calls this and other genomic epidemiological studies "a new and exciting direction for epidemiology and the study of infectious disease, particularly for public health agencies."
|Contact: Jim Sliwa|
American Society for Microbiology