Publication date: Jan 17, 2024
Calculations of SARS-CoV-2 transmission networks at a population level have been limited. Networks that estimate infections between individuals and whether this results in a mutation, can be a way to evaluate fitness of a mutational clone by how much it expands in number as well as determining the likelihood a transmission results in a new variant. Australian Delta and Omicron SARS-CoV-2 sequences were downloaded from GISAID. Transmission networks of infection between individuals were estimated using a novel mathematical method. Many of the sequences were identical, with clone sizes following power law distributions driven by negative binomial probability distributions for both the number of infections per individual and the number of mutations per transmission (median 0. 74 nucleotide changes for Delta and 0. 71 for Omicron). Using these distributions, an agent-based model was able to replicate the observed clonal network structure, providing a basis for more detailed COVID-19 modelling. Possible recombination events, tracked by insertion/deletion (indel) patterns, were identified for each variant in these outbreaks. This modelling approach reveals key transmission characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 and may complement traditional contact tracing. This methodology can also be applied to other diseases as genetic sequencing of viruses becomes more commonplace.