Our data suggest the Sierra Leone outbreak stemmed from the introduction of two genetically distinct viruses from Guinea around the same time. Samples from 12 of the first EVD patients in Sierra Leone, all believed to have attended the funeral of an EVD case from Guinea, fall into two distinct clusters (clusters 1 and 2) (Fig. 4A and fig. S8). Molecular dating places the divergence of these two lineages in late April (Fig. 3B), predating their co-appearance in Sierra Leone in late May (Fig. 4B), suggesting the funeral attendees were most likely infected by two lineages then circulating in Guinea, possibly at the funeral (fig. S9). All subsequent diversity in Sierra Leone accumulated on the background of those two lineages (Fig. 4A), consistent with epidemiological information from tracing contacts.
Patterns in observed intrahost and interhost variation provide important insights about transmission and epidemiology. Groups of patients with identical viruses or with shared intrahost variation show temporal patterns suggesting transmission links (fig. S10). One iSNV (position 10,218) shared by twelve patients is later observed as fixed within 38 patients, becoming the majority allele in the population (Fig. 4C) and defining a third Sierra Leone cluster (Fig. 4, A and D, and fig. S8). Repeated propagation at intermediate frequency suggests that transmission of multiple viral haplotypes may be common. Geographic, temporal, and epidemiological metadata supports the transmission clustering inferred from genetic data (Fig. 4, D and E, and fig. S11) (6).
To aid in relief efforts and facilitate rapid global research, we immediately released all sequence data as generated. Ongoing epidemiological and genomic surveillance is imperative to identify viral determinants of transmission dynamics, monitor viral changes and adaptation, ensure accurate diagnosis, guide research on therapeutic targets, and refine public-health strategies. It is our hope that this work will aid the multidisciplinary, international efforts to understand and contain this expanding epidemic.
In memoriam: Tragically, five co-authors, who contributed greatly to public health and research efforts in Sierra Leone, contracted EVD in the course of their work and lost their battle with the disease before this manuscript could be published. We wish to honor their memory.