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Pathogen whole-genome sequencing has become an important tool for understanding the transmission and epidemiology of infectious diseases. It has improved our understanding of sources of infection and transmission routes for important healthcare-associated pathogens, including Clostridioides difficile and Staphylococcus aureus. Transmission from known infected or colonised patients in hospitals may explain fewer cases than previously thought and multiple introductions of these pathogens from the community may play a greater a role. The findings have had important implications for infection prevention and control. Sequencing has identified heterogeneity within pathogen species, with some subtypes transmitting and persisting in hospitals better than others. It has identified sources of infection in healthcare-associated outbreaks of food-borne pathogens, Candida auris and Mycobacterium chimera, as well as individuals or groups involved in transmission and historical sources of infection. SARS-CoV-2 sequencing has been central to tracking variants during the COVID-19 pandemic and has helped understand transmission to and from patients and healthcare workers despite prevention efforts. Metagenomic sequencing is an emerging technology for culture-independent diagnosis of infection and antimicrobial resistance. In future, sequencing is likely to become more accessible and widely available. Real-time use in hospitals may allow infection prevention and control teams to identify transmission and to target interventions. It may also provide surveillance and infection control benchmarking. Attention to ethical and well-being issues arising from sequencing identifying individuals involved in transmission is important. Pathogen whole-genome sequencing has provided an incredible new lens to understand the epidemiology of healthcare-associated infection and to better control and prevent these infections.

Original publication




Journal article


J Hosp Infect

Publication Date