Since April 2014 all presumptive Salmonella isolates received by Public Health England (PHE) have been characterised using whole genome sequencing (WGS) and the genomic data generated used to identify clusters of infection. To inform the implementation and development of a national gastrointestinal infection surveillance system based on WGS we have retrospectively identified genetically related clusters of Salmonella Enteritidis and Salmonella Typhimurium infection over a one year period and determined the distribution of these clusters by PHE operational levels. Using a constrained WGS cluster definition based on single nucleotide polymorphism distance, case frequency and temporal spread we demonstrate that the majority of clusters spread to multiple PHE operational levels. The greatest investigative burden is on national level staff investigating small, geographically dispersed clusters. We also demonstrate that WGS identifies long-running, slowly developing clusters that may previously have remained undetected. This analysis also indicates likely increased workload for local health protection teams and will require an operational strategy to balance limited human resources with the public health importance of investigating small, geographically contained clusters of highly related cases. While there are operational challenges to its implementation, integrated cluster detection based on WGS from local to international level will provide further improvements in the identification of, response to and control of clusters of Salmonella spp. with public health significance.
- whole genome sequencing