Kemri traces Kenya Coronavirus strain DNA

Thursday, June 4th, 2020 00:00 |
A laboratory technician at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) laboratories. Photo/PD/FILE

A research by Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) has established that at least nine SARS-CoV-2 were imported into the country before March 30 that was later transmitted locally.

The research indicates that most of the people who have been infected with coronavirus acquired it through community transmission.

The study through Kemri successfully sequenced the genomes for the Covid -19 cases in Kenya, out of the 122 cases studied, nine had been imported while the rest were spread through community transmission.

And more so, Kemri scientists now believe that the nine separate SARS-CoV-2 imported into the country prior to April 2020 were first transmitted in Mombasa and Nairobi, before spreading to other parts.

In what could be a major breakthrough, the study has established that the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreading in several parts of the country is similar to the viruses circulating in other parts of the world.

“The report also shows evidence of transmission between Nairobi and Mombasa prior to the introduction of restrictions on movement into and out of these counties,” Kemri director general Prof Yeri Kombe said yesterday.

Further sequencing will be used to describe the pattern of continuing spread both within communities and between counties across the country.

According to scientists, viruses acquire changes in their genetic sequence over time, which can therefore provide insights on person-to-person transmission.

This, scientists say, can be visualised by drawing of genetic Page 2 of 2 trees based on changes in the genetic sequence.

Kenya Medical Research Institute staff working inside a  laboratory in Nairobi. Photo/COURTESY

The successful sequencing of the virus genome has consequently enabled Kenyan scientists to obtain more information about the genetic composition of viral strains in 122 of the confirmed cases in Kenya.

Scientists from the Kemri’s Centre conducted the study for Virus Research (CVR) and Centre for Geographic Medicine Research-Coast (CGMR-C) in collaboration with the National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL).

 The scientists analysed 122 samples from the selected cases to gain a comprehensive understanding of the variations of the virus that is present in the country.

“Based on the genetic sequencing of a proportion of SARS-CoV-2  (n=122) samples collected from cases that circulated in Kenya between March 12and April 30, suggests that infections detected and confirmed in March 2020 were largely from virus importation into the country,” the Kemri report, that has now been deposited in the Gene Bank states.

The report brings out clearly the existence of clusters of infections showing local transmission after the importation.

“This successful sequencing for the novel corona virus SARS Cov-2 in Kenya is a significant milestone in the response to the pandemic in Kenya and the entire World, as this will strengthen surveillance for tracking mutations of the virus and aid in the tracing of the sources of community infections,” an ecstatic Prof  Kombe told journalists yesterday.

Prof Kombe said whole genome sequence data allows researchers to adapt testing reagents for new mutations in the virus to reduce false negative rates.

The KEMRI boss says additional sequencing could also provide information on infections that have been missed and guide testing strategies

“ Sequencing of additional SARS-CoV-2 genomes in Kenya provides a more detailed picture of local transmission patterns,” Prof Kombe said.

According to Prof Kombe, researchers will be able to estimate from the genetic distance between sequences how many infections may have been missed for use  in guiding future testing strategy.

“The collaborative team has also developed the required capacity within Kenya for monitoring the genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 viruses circulating in the country and urges the scaling up of capacity across the country to generate a SARS-CoV-2 genetic sequence library to support and guide public health control measures,” says Prof Kombe.

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