Molecular epidemiology of viral infections: Review article
Viruses evolve much faster than cellular organisms. Together with recent advances in nucleic acid sequencing and biocomputing, this allows us to distinguish between related strains of viruses, and to deduce the relationships between viruses from different outbreaks or individual patients. Databases of nucleotide sequences contain a large number of viral sequences with which novel sequences from local outbreaks can be compared. In this way the dissemination of viruses can be followed both locally and globally. We here review the biological and technological background to the use of virus nucleic acid sequences in epidemiological studies, and provide examples of how this information can be used to monitor human viruses. Molecular studies are particularly valuable for understanding the dissemination and evolution of viruses. The knowledge obtained is useful in epidemiological reconstructions, in real-time surveillance, and may even enable us to make predictions about the future developments of viral diseases.