Genetic testing from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control revealed slight differences in strains of coronavirus detected in B.C. (BCCDC)

Genetic testing from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control revealed slight differences in strains of coronavirus detected in B.C. (BCCDC)

March dental conference key to many of B.C.’s COVID-19 cases

Early infections from China, Iran were quickly contained

B.C.’s earliest cases of COVID-19 came from China and Iran, but the largest number of cases are linked to travel from Europe, the U.S. and Eastern Canada, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says.

Henry reported June 4 on gene sequencing of samples that shows slightly different strains of the virus that causes COVID-19 from different regions. The European-like and Washington state-like strains took off after an international dental conference in Vancouver in early March, and Henry soon ordered self-isolation for everyone who had attended as positive tests started to show up.

“The first parts of those were related to the dental conference that happened in Vancouver, and we started to see people popping up in communities around the province,” Henry said. “And we linked them by our case investigations and contract tracing to the fact that many of them had attended this conference.”

After the March rise in new cases, new coronavirus positive tests have slowed down. That trend continued with five new cases identified as of June 4.

After the March rise in new cases, new coronavirus positive tests have slowed down. That trend continued with only five new cases identified as of June 4. There were no new outbreaks in the health care system and no new deaths related to COVID-19, with outbreak measures still in place in six long-term care homes.

Henry reported one new community outbreak, at a Burnaby shelter called the Beresford Warming Centre. Most of the positive tests have been in staff members.

RELATED: B.C. testing ramps up, focuses on dental conference

RELATED: Dentist conference attendees get first virus warning

Henry said the quick containment B.C.’s initial cases of returning travellers from Wuhan, China and Iran show the value of avoiding large gatherings like the dental conference. This was demonstrated by changes in the genetic pattern, which she said changes more slowly than seasonal influenza strains.

There have been 87 people whose infection is traced to the dental conference, and they had three different strains of virus, showing they gathered from the U.S., Eastern Canada and Europe and seeded the virus in B.C.


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