Evolution of an epidemic

ESR is using genome sequencing to analyse and understand a large-scale meningococci epidemic based on New Zealand's prolonged epidemic experienced between 1991 and 2008.

Infectious disease outbreaks and epidemics are a significant burden on health systems. Understanding what constitutes epidemic potential, how epidemics emerge and their subsequent evolution can inform surveillance and reduce future epidemics.

New Zealand experienced a prolonged meningococcal epidemic between 1991 and 2008. As part of a research project sponsored by the Health Research Council of New Zealand, ESR has a unique opportunity to analyse and understand a large-scale meningococci epidemic using genome sequencing.

This ESR project, Evolution of an epidemic: emergence and adaptation of group B meningococci in New Zealand, is using genomics to understand the emergence of new epidemic strains as well as strains that are diversifiying. By integrating metadata from the disease cases with genome variations, ESR is looking to discover any strain adaptation to the vaccination, as well as immune evasion and virulence strategies. 

As well as looking at past data, ESR is analysing current disease-causing meningococci in New Zealand to greatly increase the quality of surveillance.

This research project is one of the most comprehensive analyses of a major, prolonged meningococcal epidemic to date. It will aid the understanding of how an epidemic starts and spreads, as well as discover possible immune evasion and virulence factors. The results from this three-year research project will contribute a wealth of knowledge to the efforts to reduce the burden of this infectious disease.

For more information about this project, contact ESR's Chief Scientist, Phil Carter.