Zika virus in the Americas: Early epidemiological and genetic findings

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Science  15 Apr 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6283, pp. 345-349
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf5036

Zika virus genomes from Brazil

The Zika virus outbreak is a major cause for concern in Brazil, where it has been linked with increased reports of otherwise rare birth defects and neuropathology. In a phylogenetic analysis, Faria et al. infer a single introduction of Zika to the Americas and estimated the introduction date to be about May to December 2013—some 12 months earlier than the virus was reported. This timing correlates with major events in the Brazilian cultural calendar associated with increased traveler numbers from areas where Zika virus has been circulating. A correlation was also observed between incidences of microcephaly and week 17 of pregnancy.

Science, this issue p. 345


Brazil has experienced an unprecedented epidemic of Zika virus (ZIKV), with ~30,000 cases reported to date. ZIKV was first detected in Brazil in May 2015, and cases of microcephaly potentially associated with ZIKV infection were identified in November 2015. We performed next-generation sequencing to generate seven Brazilian ZIKV genomes sampled from four self-limited cases, one blood donor, one fatal adult case, and one newborn with microcephaly and congenital malformations. Results of phylogenetic and molecular clock analyses show a single introduction of ZIKV into the Americas, which we estimated to have occurred between May and December 2013, more than 12 months before the detection of ZIKV in Brazil. The estimated date of origin coincides with an increase in air passengers to Brazil from ZIKV-endemic areas, as well as with reported outbreaks in the Pacific Islands. ZIKV genomes from Brazil are phylogenetically interspersed with those from other South American and Caribbean countries. Mapping mutations onto existing structural models revealed the context of viral amino acid changes present in the outbreak lineage; however, no shared amino acid changes were found among the three currently available virus genomes from microcephaly cases. Municipality-level incidence data indicate that reports of suspected microcephaly in Brazil best correlate with ZIKV incidence around week 17 of pregnancy, although this correlation does not demonstrate causation. Our genetic description and analysis of ZIKV isolates in Brazil provide a baseline for future studies of the evolution and molecular epidemiology of this emerging virus in the Americas.

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