Using information about the RNA (genetic material) of a virus in reconstructing an outbreak can help to map the extent of the outbreak, the infection source and the way in which the virus is transmitted. As a result, measures can be taken to prevent virus spread. This is a finding of research carried out by Marcel Jonges from the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, RIVM.

To combat an outbreak of a virus infection, the progression of the infection can be reconstructed. This is usually based on information from doctors, such as the first sick day, travel history and people who have been in contact. By adding information from the RNA of viruses, the reconstruction of the outbreak becomes more reliable and interventions more focused. On 8 October 2015, Marcel Jonges defended his PhD thesis on this subject at Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam under the supervision of Prof. Dr Doctor (Doctor). Marion Koopmans (ErasmusMC/ViroScience).

Virus transfer

Use of the RNA of viruses to obtain information on the way a virus is transmitted in an outbreak is innovative and was recently applied in international virus outbreaks. In recent years, investigation of the RNA of viruses has become less expensive and can be carried out faster. As a result, increasingly more of this type of research will be carried out in future to obtain insight into virus transmission during an outbreak.

Changes in RNA

For his PhD research, Jonges studied the RNA of bird flu viruses during an outbreak in which both poultry and humans were infected. By investigating the way the RNA changed, he was able to establish the transmission route of the virus. The study showed that important changes in the virus RNA occurred in infected animals that made the virus more dangerous for people.