CDC is conducting a new pilot on samples it is collecting as part of its Traveler-based Genomic Surveillance (TGS) program that will provide early detection of flu, RSV, and select other respiratory viruses, in addition to SARS-CoV-2. The pilot, which will last for several months, will be implemented by Ginkgo Bioworks and XpresCheck. Samples that test positive for these viruses will be sequenced and uploaded to public databases to provide valuable information to public health officials and policy makers.
“The expansion of the Traveler-based Genomic Surveillance program to flu, RSV, and other pathogens is essential as we head into fall respiratory season. The TGS program, which began during the COVID-19 pandemic, acted as an early warning system to detect new and rare variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and will do the same for other respiratory viruses going forward,” said Dr. Cindy Friedman, chief of CDC’s Travelers’ Health Branch.
TGS is a multimodal platform that consists of three complementary approaches including voluntary nasal sampling of arriving international travelers, aircraft testing and wastewater sampling at seven airports nationwide. TGS has proven to be a nimble and scalable resource for public health officials in the United States–quickly adapting to a changing pandemic in real time and addressing gaps in global surveillance; especially, when testing and sequencing information are limited. For example, TGS provided early detection of the SARS-CoV-2 variant BA.2.86 entering the United States within days of its global identification. As the infected traveler had originated travel in Japan, this finding also informed the public health community that the new variant had also spread to Asia.
As of September 2023, TGS has enrolled more than 360,000 air travelers. Participation in the program is voluntary and anonymous. The program covers flights from more than 135 countries from all World Health Organization regions.