Genetic detectives begin work to trace spread of COVID-19 in Canada

OTTAWA — Canada's public health experts have been racing to stop the spread of COVID-19 by trying to figure out how everyone is getting it, and whom they might have given it to.

But even the best efforts over the last four months have left doctors stymied about the source of more than one-third of this country's known COVID-19 infections.

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Now, medical researchers are using supercomputers to turn genetics labs into detective agencies and starting the work to figure out how almost every case in Canada arose.

Andrew McArthur, director of the biomedical discovery and commercialization program at McMaster University, says his group will make a big push over the next month to compare the genetic material from versions of novel coronavirus isolated from blood samples of thousands of Canadians.

This virus is not mutating a lot, which is helpful for vaccine development and treatments, but it's changing just enough that individual cases can be linked, creating a road map of sorts of how the virus spread through the nation.

McArthur says this information will identify where weak spots were in public health measures early on and help quickly stamp out flare ups of new cases by figuring out where they originated.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 12, 2020.

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