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BC researchers launch genomic surveillance of pandemic H1N1


Vancouver, BC – The BC Centre for Disease Control has launched an influenza genome sequencing project to better understand how the pandemic H1N1 flu virus has evolved and may continue to evolve in the coming months.

This project capitalizes on the province’s researchers’ expertise and capacity in genome sequencing to generate hundreds of complete genomes from circulating influenza viruses collected in British Columbia during the H1N1 pandemic, as well as during and after the Olympics. By comparing the evolution of BC’s influenza virus to that of viruses sequenced in other regions, researchers hope to learn how a mass gathering such as the Olympics can impact the virus’ genetic sequence. The project will also allow researchers to track the geographic origins of the H1N1 virus.

“The data uncovered from this project will enable BC to track how the virus moved through the population – information that can assist public health officials in understanding the virus and preparing for future outbreaks,” says Dr Perry Kendall, British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer.

Large-scale genome projects such as this have only become common in the last five years, as sequencing technologies have improved and become faster and more cost-efficient. “This is the first time since this technology has matured that both a pandemic and an Olympics have occurred together,” says Dr Alan Winter, president and CEO of Genome BC. “The timing provides a very significant opportunity to study how a virus evolves when it is meeting and mixing with viruses from around the world.”

While influenza activity has declined to baseline or below baseline levels in Canada, pandemic H1N1 activity elsewhere remains variable, with some Eastern European and Western Asian countries continuing to report above-baseline activity levels.

This project is jointly funded by the BC Centre for Disease Control, Genome British Columbia and Genome Canada. Research is being conducted at both the BCCDC Public Health Microbiology & Reference Laboratory and Canada’s Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre.