Genome sequence analysis of first Ross River virus isolate from Papua New Guinea indicates long-term, local evolution
Viruses, 2021, 13(3), 482. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/v13030482
Ross River virus (RRV) is the most medically significant mosquito-borne virus of Australia, in terms of human morbidity. RRV cases, characterised by febrile illness and potentially persistent arthralgia, have been reported from all Australian states and territories. RRV was the cause of a large-scale epidemic of multiple Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs) from 1979 to 1980, involving at least 50,000 cases. Historical evidence of RRV seropositivity beyond Australia, in populations of Papua New Guinea (PNG), Indonesia and the Solomon Islands, has been documented. We describe the genomic characterisation and timescale analysis of the first isolate of RRV to be sampled from PNG to date. Our analysis indicates that RRV has evolved locally within PNG, independent of Australian lineages, over an approximate 40 year period. The mean time to most recent common ancestor (tMRCA) of the unique PNG clade coincides with the initiation of the PICTs epidemic in mid-1979. This may indicate that an ancestral variant of the PNG clade was seeded into the region during the epidemic, a period of high RRV transmission. Further epidemiological and molecular-based surveillance is required in PNG to better understand the molecular epidemiology of RRV in the general Australasian region.