Researchers at work: Genomic Epidemiology of Tuberculosis Transmission

Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection in the lungs that can spread to other organs when left untreated. Having plagued societies for centuries, TB remains an important area to research so that transmission is understood and out-breaks may be reduced in high risk communities. Researchers from the Institute for Heart + Lung Health are making great strides in the development of whole genome sequencing technology that will answer questions about TB transmission dynamics.    

In a recent paper, Genomic Epidemiology of Tuberculosis Transmission, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr James Johnson explains that the development of fast, reliable and inexpensive whole genome sequencing technology presents an opportunity to describe tuberculosis (TB) transmission in fine detail and address questions regarding TB transmission dynamics. Through the use of whole genome sequencing and social network analysis, the researchers plan to reconstruct TB clusters to identify transmission patterns in endemic and outbreak communities throughout BC. They have successfully piloted the use of this genomic epidemiology approach to reconstruct TB transmission in an outbreak situation.

The figure below demonstrates TB transmission through “super-spreaders” in this outbreak community. Ultimately, the findings from genomic epidemiology can lead to more effective public health interventions for communities at high risk for tuberculosis transmission.