Genomic Epidemiology of a Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 Outbreak in a US Major League Soccer Club: Was It Travel Related?

Ludy R. Carmola, Jacquelyn Turcinovic, Garrison Draper, David Webner, Margot Putukian, Holly Silvers-Granelli, Andrei Bombin, Bradley A. Connor, Kristina M. Angelo, Phyllis Kozarsky, Michael Libman, Ralph Huits, Davidson H. Hamer, Jessica K. Fairley, John H. Connor, Anne Piantadosi, Daniel L. Bourque

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Professional soccer athletes are at risk of acquiring severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). United States Major League Soccer (MLS) uses protocol-based SARS-CoV-2 testing for identification of individuals with coronavirus disease 2019. Methods: Per MLS protocol, fully vaccinated players underwent SARS-CoV-2 real-time polymerase chain reaction testing weekly; unvaccinated players were tested every other day. Demographic and epidemiologic data were collected from individuals who tested positive, and contact tracing was performed. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) was performed on positive specimens, and phylogenetic analyses were used to identify potential transmission patterns. Results: In the fall of 2021, all 30 players from 1 MLS team underwent SARS-CoV-2 testing per protocol; 27 (90%) were vaccinated. One player who had recently traveled to Africa tested positive for SARS-CoV-2; within the following 2 weeks, 10 additional players and 1 staff member tested positive. WGS yielded full genome sequences for 10 samples, including 1 from the traveler. The traveler's sample was Delta sublineage AY.36 and was closely related to a sequence from Africa. Nine samples yielded other Delta sublineages including AY.4 (n = 7), AY.39 (n = 1), and B.1.617.2 (n = 1). The 7 AY.4 sequences clustered together; suggesting a common source of infection. Transmission from a family member visiting from England to an MLS player was identified as the potential index case. The other 2 AY.4 sequences differed from this group by 1-3 nucleotides, as did a partial genome sequence from an additional team member. Conclusions: WGS is a useful tool for understanding SARS-CoV-2 transmission dynamics in professional sports teams.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberofad235
JournalOpen Forum Infectious Diseases
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • molecular epidemiology
  • professional sports
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • transmission

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Infectious Diseases


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