Variola virus is at risk of re-emergence either through accidental release, bioterrorism, or synthetic biology. The use of phylogenetics and phylogeography to support epidemic field response is expected to grow as sequencing technology becomes miniaturized, cheap, and ubiquitous. In this study, we aimed to explore the use of common VARV diagnostic targets hemagglutinin (HA), cytokine response modifier B (CrmB), and A-type inclusion protein (ATI) for phylogenetic characterization as well as the representativeness of modelling strategies in phylogeography to support epidemic response should smallpox re-emerge. We used Bayesian discrete-trait phylogeography using the most complete data set currently available of whole genome (n ¼ 51) and partially sequenced (n ¼ 20) VARV isolates. We show that multilocus models combining HA, ATI, and CrmB genes may represent a useful heuristic to differentiate between VARV Major and subclades of VARV Minor which have been associated with variable case-fatality rates. Where whole genome sequencing is unavailable, phylogeography models of HA, ATI, and CrmB may provide preliminary but uncertain estimates of transmission, while supplementing whole genome models with additional isolates sequenced only for HA can improve sample representativeness, maintaining similar support for transmission relative to whole genome models. We have also provided empirical evidence delineating historic international VARV transmission using phylogeography. Due to the persistent threat of re-emergence, our results provide important research for smallpox epidemic preparedness in the posteradication era as recommended by the World Health Organisation.
- Public health
- Variola virus
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Molecular Biology