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Genomic surveillance of pandemic H1N1

VANCOUVER, B.C. The BC Centre for Disease Control has launched an influenza genome sequencing project to better understand how the pandemic H1N1 flu virus has evolved in British Columbia, and may continue to evolve in the coming months.

This project capitalizes on BC's expertise and capacity in genome sequencing to generate hundreds of complete genomes from circulating influenza viruses collected in British Columbia during the H1N1 pandemic, as well as during and after the Olympics. By comparing the evolution of BC's influenza virus to that of viruses sequenced in other regions, researchers hope to learn how a mass gathering such as the Olympics can impact the virus' genetic sequence. The project will also allow researchers to track the geographic origins of the H1N1 virus that entered BC in 2009.

"We know from earlier studies that one of the most important drivers of an influenza virus' evolution is the mixing of different lineages of virus from around the world," explains Dr. Robert Brunham, Provincial Executive Director of the BC Centre for Disease Control. "While we are not expecting a third wave of H1N1 in BC, we will have over 250,000 visitors in Vancouver in February, which may impact influenza virus evolution."

Although researchers predict that exposure to influenza viruses from different countries will lead to changes in the H1N1 virus' genetic sequence, these changes are unlikely to change the severity of disease due to the H1N1 virus.

"The data uncovered from this project will enable BC to track how the virus moved through the population - information that can assist public health officials in understanding the virus and preparing for future outbreaks," explains Dr. Perry Kendall, British Columbia's Provincial Health Officer.

Large-scale genome projects such as this have only become common in the last five years, as sequencing technologies have improved and become faster and more cost-efficient. "This is the first time since this technology has matured that both a pandemic and an Olympics have occurred together," says Dr. Alan Winter, President and CEO of Genome BC. "The timing provides a very significant opportunity to study how a virus evolves when it is meeting and mixing with viruses from around the world."

While influenza activity has declined to baseline or below baseline levels in Canada, pandemic H1N1 activity elsewhere remains variable, with some Eastern European and Western Asian countries continuing to report above-baseline activity levels.

This project is jointly funded by the BC Centre for Disease Control, Genome British Columbia and Genome Canada. Research is being conducted at both the BCCDC Public Health Microbiology & Reference Laboratory and Canada's Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre.


Contact: Gabrielle Nye
Genome BC

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