Phylogeographic Reconstruction of African Yellow Fever Virus Isolates Indicates Recent Simultaneous Dispersal into East and West Africa

Andrew Beck, Hilda Guzman, Li Li, Brett Ellis, Robert B. Tesh, Alan D.T. Barrett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Yellow fever virus (YFV) is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that is a major public health problem in tropical areas of Africa and South America. There have been detailed studies on YFV ecology in West Africa and South America, but current understanding of YFV circulation on the African continent is incomplete. This inadequacy is especially notable for East and Central Africa, for which the unpredictability of human outbreaks is compounded by limitations in both historical and present surveillance efforts. Sparse availability of nucleotide sequence data makes it difficult to investigate the dispersal of YFV in these regions of the continent. To remedy this, we constructed Bayesian phylogenetic and geographic analyses utilizing 49 partial genomic sequences to infer the structure of YFV divergence across the known range of the virus on the African continent. Relaxed clock analysis demonstrated evidence for simultaneous divergence of YFV into east and west lineages, a finding that differs from previous hypotheses of YFV dispersal from reservoirs located on edges of the endemic range. Using discrete and continuous geographic diffusion models, we provide detailed structure of YFV lineage diversity. Significant transition links between extant East and West African lineages are presented, implying connection between areas of known sylvatic cycling. The results of demographic modeling reinforce the existence of a stably maintained population of YFV with spillover events into human populations occurring periodically. Geographically distinct foci of circulation are reconstructed, which have significant implications for studies of YFV ecology and emergence of human disease. We propose further incorporation of Bayesian phylogeography into formal GIS analyses to augment studies of arboviral disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1910
JournalPLoS neglected tropical diseases
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases


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