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J Gen Virol. 2010 Nov;91(Pt 11):2698-705. doi: 10.1099/vir.0.024232-0. Epub 2010 Jul 14.

Molecular epidemiology of Powassan virus in North America.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Albuquerque, NM, USA.


Powassan virus (POW) is a tick-borne flavivirus distributed in Canada, the northern USA and the Primorsky region of Russia. POW is the only tick-borne flavivirus endemic to the western hemisphere, where it is transmitted mainly between Ixodes cookei and groundhogs (Marmota monax). Deer tick virus (DTV), a genotype of POW that has been frequently isolated from deer ticks (Ixodes scapularis), appears to be maintained in an enzootic cycle between these ticks and white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus). DTV has been isolated from ticks in several regions of North America, including the upper Midwest and the eastern seaboard. The incidence of human disease due to POW is apparently increasing. Previous analysis of tick-borne flaviviruses endemic to North America have been limited to relatively short genome fragments. We therefore assessed the evolutionary dynamics of POW using newly generated complete and partial genome sequences. Maximum-likelihood and Bayesian phylogenetic inferences showed two well-supported, reciprocally monophyletic lineages corresponding to POW and DTV. Bayesian skyline plots based on year-of-sampling data indicated no significant population size change for either virus lineage. Statistical model-based selection analyses showed evidence of purifying selection in both lineages. Positive selection was detected in NS-5 sequences for both lineages and envelope sequences for POW. Our findings confirm that POW and DTV sequences are relatively stable over time, which suggests strong evolutionary constraint, and support field observations that suggest that tick-borne flavivirus populations are extremely stable in enzootic foci.

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