The following is a summary of “Genomic Epidemiology of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 Transmission Among University Students in Western Pennsylvania,” published in the July 2023 issue of Infectious Diseases by Srinivasa, et al.
Controlling the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome, coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), on college campuses presented unique challenges due to communal living arrangements and student social dynamics. Understanding how SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted among college students was crucial to develop effective control strategies.
The study collected SARS-CoV-2 nasal swab samples from University of Pittsburgh students for symptomatic testing and asymptomatic surveillance between August 2020 and April 2021 across three campuses. Whole-genome sequencing (WGS) was performed on 308 samples, and contact tracing data from students were utilized to identify transmission clusters.
Among the samples analyzed, 31 Pangolin lineages of SARS-CoV-2 were identified, with the majority belonging to the B.1.1.7 (Alpha) and B.1.2 lineages. Contact tracing revealed that 142 students (46%) were part of transmission clusters, indicating potential direct transmission. WGS identified 53 putative transmission clusters involving 216 students (70%), providing additional insights into transmission pathways missed by contact tracing alone. However, 84 cases (27%) could not be linked by either WGS or contact tracing. Transmission clusters were most commonly associated with students residing in the same dormitory, off-campus roommates, friends, or participation in athletic activities.
The findings suggested significant transmission of SARS-CoV-2 across college campuses, as evidenced by the clustering of positive samples identified through WGS. Combining WGS with contact tracing proved an effective strategy for identifying and understanding SARS-CoV-2 transmission among students. The results highlighted the potential of WGS as a tool to mitigate and further prevent transmission on college campuses, aiding in the development of targeted control measures.