Explainer

3 Nov 2020

Software tool will help doctors identify and prevent hospital transmission of SARS-CoV-2

University of Cambridge Press Release

Software tool will help doctors identify and prevent hospital transmission of SARS-CoV-2

A new software tool developed in Cambridge will help doctors identify where cases of COVID-19 were caused by transmission within a hospital, helping them to prevent further spread of the disease

The new software package, A2B-Covid, has been designed by a team of doctors and scientists at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Campus, and the MRC Biostatistics Unit at the University of Cambridge.

Addenbrooke’s cares for coronavirus patients from Cambridge and across the East of England. As the virus is highly infectious, an important part of care is preventing the spread of the virus within the hospital grounds.  However, with patients coming in and out of the hospital every day it can be hard to tell whether new infections come from the local community or from transmission in the hospital itself.

The software combines knowledge about infection dynamics, data describing the movements of individuals, and genome sequence data to assess whether or not coronavirus has been transmitted between people in the hospital environment. As the virus replicates and spreads, small changes occur in the viral genome.  Genome sequencing – reading the genomes of a sample of viruses taken from a patient – helps researchers to work out whether cases are linked.  Other factors, such as the difference in time between people reporting symptoms, also inform the analysis. Knowing where different people stayed or worked in the hospital gives an idea of who was in the same place at the same time so as to potentially transmit the virus.