Phylogeographic and phylodynamic approaches to epidemiological hypothesis testing

Simon Dellicour, Sebastian Lequime, Bram Vrancken, Mandev S. Gill, Paul Bastide, Karthik Gangavarapu, Nathaniel L. Matteson, Yi Tan, Louis du Plessis, Alexander A. Fisher, Martha I. Nelson, Marius Gilbert, Marc A. Suchard, Kristian G. Andersen, Nathan D. Grubaugh, Oliver G. Pybus, Philippe Lemey

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Mar 24, 2020
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Received Date: 11th March 20

Computational analyses of pathogen genomes are increasingly used to unravel the dispersal history and transmission dynamics of epidemics. Here, we show how to go beyond historical reconstructions and use spatially-explicit phylogeographic and phylodynamic approaches to formally test epidemiological hypotheses. We illustrate our approach by focusing on the West Nile virus (WNV) spread in North America that has been responsible for substantial impacts on public, veterinary, and wildlife health. WNV isolates have been sampled at various times and locations across North America since its introduction to New York twenty years ago. We exploit this genetic data repository to demonstrate that factors hypothesised to affect viral dispersal and demography can be formally tested. Specifically, we detail and apply an analytical workflow consisting of state-of-the art methods that we further improve to test the impact of environmental factors on the dispersal locations, velocity, and frequency of viral lineages, as well as on the genetic diversity of the viral population through time. We find that WNV lineages tend to disperse faster in areas with higher temperatures and we identify temporal variation in temperature as a main predictor of viral genetic diversity through time. Using a simulation procedure, we find no evidence that viral lineages preferentially circulate within the same migratory bird flyway, suggesting a substantial role for non-migratory birds or mosquito dispersal along the longitudinal gradient. Finally,  we also separately apply our testing approaches on the three WNV genotypes that circulated in North America in order to understand and compare their dispersal ability. Our study demonstrates that the development and application of statistical approaches, coupled with comprehensive pathogen genomic data, can address epidemiological questions that might otherwise be difficult or impractically expensive to answer.

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This is an abstract of a preprint hosted on an independent third party site. It has not been peer reviewed but is currently under consideration at Nature Communications.

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