Publications on molecular evolution and epidemiology of EBOV


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Stadler T, Kühnert D, Rasmussen DA, du Plessis L. 2014. Insights into the Early Epidemic Spread of Ebola in Sierra Leone Provided by Viral Sequence Data. PLOS Currents Outbreaks. doi:10.1371/currents.outbreaks.02bc6d927ecee7bbd33532ec8ba6a25f.
Background and Methodology: The current Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa has been spreading at least since December 2013. The first confirmed case of Ebola virus in Sierra Leone was identified on May 25. Based on viral genetic sequencing data from 72 individuals in Sierra Leone collected between the end of May and mid June, we utilize a range of phylodynamic methods to estimate the basic reproductive number (R0). We additionally estimate the expected lengths of the incubation and infectious periods of the virus. Finally, we use phylogenetic trees to examine the role played by population structure in the epidemic.
Results: The median estimates of R0 based on sequencing data alone range between 1.65-2.18, with the most plausible model yielding a median R0 of 2.18 (95% HPD 1.24-3.55). Importantly, our results indicate that, at least until mid June, relief efforts in Sierra Leone were ineffective at lowering the effective reproductive number of the virus. We estimate the expected length of the infectious period to be 2.58 days (median; 95% HPD 1.24-6.98). The dataset appears to be too small in order to estimate the incubation period with high certainty (median expected incubation period 4.92 days; 95% HPD 2.11-23.20). While our estimates of the duration of infection tend to be smaller than previously reported, phylodynamic analyses support a previous estimate that 70% of cases were observed and included in the present dataset. The dataset is too small to show a particular population structure with high significance, however our preliminary analyses suggest that half the population is spreading the virus with an R0 well above 2, while the other half of the population is spreading with an R0 below 1.
Conclusions: Overall we show that sequencing data can robustly infer key epidemiological parameters. Such estimates inform public health officials and help to coordinate effective public health efforts. Thus having more sequencing data available for the ongoing Ebola virus epidemic and at the start of new outbreaks will foster a quick understanding of the dynamics of the pathogen.


Volz E, Pond S. 2014. Phylodynamic Analysis of Ebola Virus in the 2014 Sierra Leone Epidemic. PLOS Currents Outbreaks. doi:10.1371/currents.outbreaks.6f7025f1271821d4c815385b08f5f80e.
Background: The Ebola virus (EBOV) epidemic in Western Africa is the largest in recorded history and control efforts have so far failed to stem the rapid growth in the number of infections. Mathematical models serve a key role in estimating epidemic growth rates and the reproduction number (R0) from surveillance data and, recently, molecular sequence data. Phylodynamic analysis of existing EBOV time-stamped sequence data may provide independent estimates of the unobserved number of infections, reveal recent epidemiological history, and provide insight into selective pressures acting upon viral genes.
Methods: We fit a series mathematical models of infectious disease dynamics to phylogenies estimated from 78 whole EBOV genomes collected from distinct patients in May and June of 2014 in Sierra Leone, and perform evolutionary analysis on these genomes combined with closely related EBOV genomes from previous outbreaks. Two analyses are conducted with values of the latent period that have been used in recent modelling efforts. We also examined the EBOV sequences for evidence of possible episodic adaptive molecular evolution during the 2014 outbreak.
Results: We find evidence for adaptive evolution affecting L and GP protein coding regions of the EBOV genome, which is unlikely to bias molecular clock and phylodynamic analyses. We estimate R0=2.40 (95% HPD:1.54-3.87 ) if the mean latent period is 5.3 days, and R0=3.81, (95% HPD:2.47-6.3) if the mean latent period is 12.7 days. The estimated coefficient of variation (CV) of the number of transmissions per infected host is very high, and a large proportion of infections yield no transmissions.
Conclusions: Estimates of R0 are sensitive to the unknown latent infectious period which can not be reliably estimated from genetic data alone. EBOV phylogenies show significant evidence for superspreading and extreme variance in the number of transmissions per infected individual during the early epidemic in Sierra Leone


Łuksza M, Bedford T & Lässig M (2014) Epidemiological and evolutionary analysis of the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak. arXiv:1411.1722 (Submitted on 6 Nov 2014)
The 2014 epidemic of the Ebola virus is governed by a genetically diverse viral population. In the early Sierra Leone outbreak, a recent study has identified new mutations that generate genetically distinct sequence clades. Here we find evidence that major Sierra Leone clades have systematic differences in growth rate and reproduction number. If this growth heterogeneity remains stable, it will generate major shifts in clade frequencies and influence the overall epidemic dynamics on time scales within the current outbreak. Our method is based on simple summary statistics of clade growth, which can be inferred from genealogical trees with an underlying clade-specific birth-death model of the infection dynamics. This method can be used to perform realtime tracking of an evolving epidemic and identify emerging clades of epidemiological or evolutionary significance.