During the past several decades, dengue viruses have progressively extended their geographic distribution, and are currently some of the most important mosquito-borne viruses associated with human illness. Determining the genetic variability and transmission patterns of these RNA viruses is crucial in developing effective control strategies for the disease. Primer-extension sequencing of <3% of the dengue genome (across the E/NS1 gene junction) provided sufficient information for estimating genetic relationships among 40 dengue type 1 and 40 type 2 virus isolates from diverse geographic areas and hosts. A quantitative comparison of these 240-nucleotide-long sequences revealed previously unrecognized evolutionary relationships between disease outbreaks. Five distinct virus genotypic groups were detected for each of the two serotypes. The evolutionary rates of epidemic dengue viruses of types 1 and 2 were similar, although the transmission pathways of these viruses around the world are different. For dengue type 2, one genotypic group represents an isolated, forest virus cycle which seems to have evolved independently in West Africa. This is the first genetic evidence of the existence of a sylvatic cycle of dengue virus, which is clearly distinct from outbreak viruses.
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