mSphere | 2021
Overlapping of Independent SARS-CoV-2 Nosocomial Transmissions in a Complex Outbreak
We report a complex epidemiological scenario of a nosocomial COVID-19 outbreak in the second wave, based on WGS analysis. Initially, standard epidemiological findings led to the assumption of a homogeneous outbreak caused by a single SARS-CoV-2 strain. ABSTRACT SARS-CoV-2 nosocomial outbreaks in the first COVID-19 wave were likely associated with a shortage of personal protective equipment and scarce indications on control measures. Having covered these limitations, updates on current SARS-CoV-2 nosocomial outbreaks are required. We carried out an in-depth analysis of a 27-day nosocomial outbreak in a gastroenterology ward in our hospital, potentially involving 15 patients and 3 health care workers. Patients had stayed in one of three neighboring rooms in the ward. The severity of the infections in six of the cases and a high fatality rate made the clinicians suspect the possible involvement of a single virulent strain persisting in those rooms. Whole-genome sequencing (WGS) of the strains from 12 patients and 1 health care worker revealed an unexpected complexity. Five different SARS-CoV-2 strains were identified, two infecting a single patient each, ruling out their relationship with the outbreak; the remaining three strains were involved in three independent, overlapping, limited transmission clusters with three, three, and five cases. Whole-genome sequencing was key to understand the complexity of this outbreak. IMPORTANCE We report a complex epidemiological scenario of a nosocomial COVID-19 outbreak in the second wave, based on WGS analysis. Initially, standard epidemiological findings led to the assumption of a homogeneous outbreak caused by a single SARS-CoV-2 strain. The discriminatory power of WGS offered a strikingly different perspective consisting of five introductions of different strains, with only half of them causing secondary cases in three independent overlapping clusters. Our study exemplifies how complex the SARS-CoV-2 transmission in the nosocomial setting during the second COVID-19 wave occurred and leads to extending the analysis of outbreaks beyond the initial epidemiological assumptions.