Enzootic strains of Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE) virus occur in the United States (Florida), Mexico, Central America and South America. Epizootic VEE first occurred in North and Central America in a widespread outbreak between 1969 and 1972. To investigate the likelihood that this epizootic VEE virus, identified as VEE antigenic subtype I-AB, evolved from enzootic viruses extant in the region, we cloned and sequenced the 26S mRNA region of the genomes of the Florida VEE subtype II virus, strain Everglades Fe3-7c, and the Middle American subtype I-E virus, strain Mena II. This region of the genome encodes the viral structural proteins. The sequences of the 26S mRNA regions of the Everglades and Mena virus genomes differed from that of the reference epizootic VEE subtype I-AB virus, Trinidad donkey strain, by 453 and 887 nucleotides and by 66 and 131 amino acids, respectively. These data confirm previous reports demonstrating significant antigenic and genetic distance between VEE I-AB virus and viruses of subtypes I-E and II. It is unlikely that the epizootic VEE I-AB virus responsible for the 1969 outbreak originated from mutation of enzootic VEE viruses in North or Middle America.
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