Shomporko Desk:-OTTAWA – For the last 4 months, Canada’s public health experts have been hustling to stop the spread of COVID-19 by attempting to discern out how absolutely everyone is getting it, and whom they may have given it to.
But even the great efforts have left doctors obstructed about the source of more than 33% of this current nation’s known COVID-19 diseases. Not knowing where cases originate from makes outbreaks that a lot harder to get rid of.
Now medical researchers and supercomputers are turning genetics labs into virus detective agencies, looking first to find the novel coronavirus itself inside blood tests from a large number of infected patients, and afterward contrasting those secluded infections with one another searching for places they vary.
Every close match will draw a line from patient to patient, ultimately painting a picture of how the virus spreads.
“This is the big effort over the next four weeks,” said Andrew McArthur, director of the biomedical discovery and commercialization program at McMaster University.
“What’s going to come out of there pretty soon is a glimpse of what just happened, how did it move around the province, how did it move between provinces or how big was Pearson (airport) in the early days of the airport being open.”
Knowing how the virus spread will show where there were weaknesses in public health measures early on, said McArthur. Being able to keep divining genetic codes from samples will mean when there are flare-ups of cases, they can be quickly compared to each other to see if they’re all related or are coming from multiple sources.
It means, for example, a long-term care centre should be able to quickly know if its 10 new cases are because one case spread widely or arose from multiple carriers coming into the facility.
“That’s a very different infection-control problem,” said McArthur.
It also means that maybe, just maybe, the second COVID-19 wave most think is coming won’t be as bad, or as hard to control, like the first, because the sources can be isolated very quickly.
“A second wave is likely,” McArthur said. “But we’ve never spent this kind of money and effort before, either, so maybe we’ll beat it.”
McArthur estimates the first data will be available for Ontario in about four weeks but warns it will take many more months to complete all of the tests. His lab sequenced 600 samples on Wednesday alone.
Overall, McArthur expects the genetics project to last for two years.
Photo credit: The Canadian Press
News source: The Canadian Press