Zika virus evolution and spread in the Americas

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Abstract

One hundred and ten Zika virus genomes from ten countries and territories involved in the Zika virus epidemic reveal rapid expansion of the epidemic within Brazil and multiple introductions to other regions.

Although the recent Zika virus (ZIKV) epidemic in the Americas and its link to birth defects have attracted a great deal of attention1,2, much remains unknown about ZIKV disease epidemiology and ZIKV evolution, in part owing to a lack of genomic data. Here we address this gap in knowledge by using multiple sequencing approaches to generate 110 ZIKV genomes from clinical and mosquito samples from 10 countries and territories, greatly expanding the observed viral genetic diversity from this outbreak. We analysed the timing and patterns of introductions into distinct geographic regions; our phylogenetic evidence suggests rapid expansion of the outbreak in Brazil and multiple introductions of outbreak strains into Puerto Rico, Honduras, Colombia, other Caribbean islands, and the continental United States. We find that ZIKV circulated undetected in multiple regions for many months before the first locally transmitted cases were confirmed, highlighting the importance of surveillance of viral infections. We identify mutations with possible functional implications for ZIKV biology and pathogenesis, as well as those that might be relevant to the effectiveness of diagnostic tests.

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