Sentinel surveillance networks have been operating for influenza virus for many years. In particular, severe acute respiratory infections (SARI) surveillance using a sentinel network of six hospitals has proven very useful to evaluate the severity of such kind of infections. In SEQ-COVID-19 LABSURV we evaluate the use of SARI surveillance as a cost-effective and sustainable tool for future long-term genomic SARS-CoV-2 surveillance and to provide useful information both for public health and the authorities.
In December 2019, public health authorities in Wuhan, China, reported a cluster of patients with an acute respiratory syndrome of unknown cause. A novel coronavirus, later called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was soon identified as the causative agent. The initial outbreak spread rapidly in Wuhan, China and later globally with outbreaks observed whole over the world. The related disease is referred to as COVID-19.
Viruses constantly change through mutations and variations in the SARS-CoV-2 virus, due to evolution and adaptation processes, have been observed worldwide. While most emerging mutations will not have a significant impact on the spread of the virus, some mutations or combinations of mutations may provide the virus with a selective advantage, such as increased transmissibility or the ability to evade the host immune response. Therefore, as in many other countries, Belgium started a genomic baseline surveillance (GBS) that continuously sequences a small proportion of positive samples representative for the Belgian population allowing to monitor viral diversity over time. Next to this passive surveillance, an active surveillance component was added to have a specific selection of priority samples to be sequenced. The priority samples focus on emerging variant detection such as the selection of samples from unusually large outbreaks, samples from patients with a potential re-infection or infection after vaccination, and samples from travelers returning from high-risk countries. However, this selection of samples for sequencing by the Sequencing Platform does not allow to accurately investigate the association between genomic characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 and patient profiles and/or clinical outcomes.
With this project, we aim to:
- evaluate whether sentinel SARI surveillance using a sentinel network of six hospitals can be used to obtain a global view on circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants in Belgium and capturing emerging variants.
- combine the sequencing results with clinical data for future analyses on severity of disease associated to a variant and vaccine effectiveness.
If successful, this system could represent a cost-effective and sustainable tool for public health policy makers.