It is known that viruses change frequently. There are already many different variants of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. RIVM is conducting laboratory research to see which variants are present in the Netherlands and how they spread in the Netherlands. This research is important to know whether the new variants that are circulating have characteristics that pose additional risks. Some changes (mutations) can cause a variant to spread more quickly or make people more ill. Other mutations change the external appearance of the virus, making it harder for the immune system to detect it after a previous infection or vaccination.
How does pathogen surveillance work?
Every week, RIVM conducts laboratory research on a random sampling of test samples. In this research, all the building blocks of the genetic material from the virus (RNA) are mapped. This is called sequence analysis. This technique makes it possible to examine the building blocks of the virus and compare them to those of other samples. This shows whether the virus is changing and how, and to determine if we need to be more alert regarding certain variants. We can also see how different variants of the virus are related and how they are spreading. This is known as phylogenetic research.
Working together and sharing knowledge
RIVM is collaborating with laboratories throughout the country on these research efforts. The laboratories submit a random sampling of test samples for research purposes every week. Through a sequencing network known as SeqNeth-Sars2, a number of laboratories also supply genetic sequences from samples for research purposes. RIVM has been doing these analyses since the beginning of the epidemic. By now, this involves about 1500 samples every week. Laboratory research takes more time and is more complicated than analysing a sample from a PCR test, for example. Various specialists are involved in the research.
Map of the Dutch laboratories conducting SARS-CoV-2 pathogen surveillance (April 2022)