Viral infection and transmission in a large, well-traced outbreak caused by the SARS-CoV-2 delta variant
Published On: July 7, 2021|
Li B, Deng A, Li K et al.
We report the first local transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant in mainland China. All 167 infections could be traced back to the first index case. Daily sequential PCR testing of the quarantined subjects indicated that the viral loads of Delta infections, when they first become PCR+, were on average ∼1000 times greater compared to A/B lineage infections during initial epidemic wave in China in early 2020, suggesting potentially faster viral replication and greater infectiousness of Delta during early infection. We performed high-quality sequencing on samples from 126 individuals. Reliable epidemiological data meant that, for 111 transmission events, the donor and recipient cases were known. The estimated transmission bottleneck size was 1-3 virions with most minor intra-host single nucleotide variants (iSNVs) failing to transmit to the recipients. However, transmission heterogeneity of SARS-CoV-2 was also observed. The transmission of minor iSNVs resulted in at least 4 of the 30 substitutions identified in the outbreak, highlighting the contribution of intra-host variants to population level viral diversity during rapid spread. Disease control activities, such as the frequency of population testing, quarantine during pre-symptomatic infection, and level of virus genomic surveillance should be adjusted in order to account for the increasing prevalence of the Delta variant worldwide.