Bhanja virus (BHAV) and its antigenically close relatives Forecariah virus (FORV), Kismayo virus (KISV), and Palma virus (PALV) are thought to be members of the family Bunyaviridae, but they have not been assigned to a genus or species. Despite their broad geographical distribution and reports that BHAV causes sporadic cases of febrile illness and encephalitis in humans, the public health importance of the Bhanja serogroup viruses remains unclear, due in part to the lack of sequence and biochemical information for the virus proteins. In order to better define the molecular characteristics of this group, we determined the full-length sequences of the L, M, and S genome segments of multiple isolates of BHAV as well as FORV and PALV. The genome structures of these Bhanja viruses are similar to those of viruses belonging to the genus Phlebovirus. Functional domains and amino acid motifs in the viral proteins that are conserved among other known phleboviruses were also identified in proteins of the BHAV group. Phylogenetic and serological analyses revealed that the BHAVs are most closely related to the novel emerging tick-borne phleboviruses severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome virus and Heartland virus, which have recently been implicated as causing severe acute febrile illnesses associated with thrombocytopenia in humans in China and the United States. Our results indicate that the Bhanja serogroup viruses constitute a single novel species in the genus Phlebovirus. The results of this study should facilitate epidemiological surveillance for other, similar tick-borne phleboviruses that may represent unrecognized causes of febrile illness in humans.
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