The evolution and phylodynamics of serotype A and SAT2 foot-and-mouth disease viruses in endemic regions of Africa

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a major livestock disease with direct clinical impacts as well as indirect trade implications. Control through vaccination and stamping-out has successfully reduced or eradicated the disease from Europe and large parts of South America. However, sub-Saharan Africa remains endemically affected with 5/7 serotypes currently known to be circulating across the continent. This has significant implications both locally for livestock production and poverty reduction but also globally as it represents a major reservoir of viruses, which could spark new epidemics in disease free countries or vaccination zones. This paper describes the phylodynamics of serotypes A and SAT2 in Africa including recent isolates from Cameroon in Central Africa. We estimated the most recent common ancestor for serotype A was an East African virus from the 1930s (median 1937; HPD 1922-1950) compared to SAT2 which has a much older common ancestor from the early 1700s (median 1709; HPD 1502-1814). Detailed analysis of the different clades shows clearly that different clades are evolving and diffusing across the landscape at different rates with both serotypes having a particularly recent clade that is evolving and spreading more rapidly than other clades within their serotype. However, the lack of detailed sequence data available for Africa seriously limits our understanding of FMD epidemiology across the continent. A comprehensive view of the evolutionary history and dynamics of FMD viruses is essential to understand many basic epidemiological aspects of FMD in Africa such as the scale of persistence and the role of wildlife and thus the opportunities and scale at which vaccination and other controls could be applied. Finally we ask endemic countries to join the OIE/FAO supported regional networks and take advantage of new cheap technologies being rolled out to collect isolates and submit them to the World Reference Laboratory.

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