Hesam Montazeri, Susan Little, Mozhgan Mozaffarilegha, Niko Beerenwinkel, Victor DeGruttola
October 22, 2020
Article number: 20190026
Genetic sequence data of pathogens are increasingly used to investigate transmission dynamics in both endemic diseases and disease outbreaks. Such research can aid in the development of appropriate interventions and in the design of studies to evaluate them. Several computational methods have been proposed to infer transmission chains from sequence data; however, existing methods do not generally reliably reconstruct transmission trees because genetic sequence data or inferred phylogenetic trees from such data contain insufficient information for accurate estimation of transmission chains. Here, we show by simulation studies that incorporating infection times, even when they are uncertain, can greatly improve the accuracy of reconstruction of transmission trees. To achieve this improvement, we propose a Bayesian inference methods using Markov chain Monte Carlo that directly draws samples from the space of transmission trees under the assumption of complete sampling of the outbreak. The likelihood of each transmission tree is computed by a phylogenetic model by treating its internal nodes as transmission events. By a simulation study, we demonstrate that accuracy of the reconstructed transmission trees depends mainly on the amount of information available on times of infection; we show superiority of the proposed method to two alternative approaches when infection times are known up to specified degrees of certainty. In addition, we illustrate the use of a multiple imputation framework to study features of epidemic dynamics, such as the relationship between characteristics of nodes and average number of outbound edges or inbound edges, signifying possible transmission events from and to nodes. We apply the proposed method to a transmission cluster in San Diego and to a dataset from the 2014 Sierra Leone Ebola virus outbreak and investigate the impact of biological, behavioral, and demographic factors.