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Arch Virol Suppl. 2004;(18):65-84.

Evolution and dispersal of encephalitic flaviviruses.

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Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Oxford, UK.


There are two major groups of encephalitic flaviviruses, those that infect and are transmitted by ticks, particularly Ixodes spp. and those that infect and are transmitted by mosquitoes, particularly Culex spp. The tick-borne encephalitic flaviviruses exhibit evolutionary characteristics that are largely determined by the protracted life cycle of the tick, its habitat and the prevailing climatic conditions. These viruses appear to have evolved gradually from non-encephalitic viruses that radiated eastwards and north eastwards out of Africa into Asia and the southern islands, then northwards to far east Asia and finally westwards across Eurasia to western Europe, during the past two to four thousand years. Only one of these recognized species has found its way to North America viz. Powassan virus. In contrast, the evolution of the recognized mosquito-borne encephalitic flaviviruses reflects the wide range of mosquito species that they infect. They emerged out of Africa relatively recently and at roughly the same time, i.e., probably during the past few centuries. Although many of these mosquito-borne viruses are geographically widely dispersed, with the exception of West Nile virus, they are found either in the Old World or the New World, never in both, and we are now beginning to understand the reasons. Phylogenetic trees will be used here to describe the evolution, epidemiology and dispersal characteristics of these viruses, taking into account the importance of virus persistence and recombination.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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