Chikungunya (CHIK) virus is a member of the genus Alphavirus in the family Togaviridae. Serologically, it is most closely related to o'nyong-nyong (ONN) virus and is a member of the Semliki Forest antigenic complex. CHIK virus is believed to be enzootic throughout much of Africa and historical evidence indicates that it spread to other parts of the world from this origin. Strains from Africa and Asia are reported to differ biologically, indicating that distinct lineages may exist. To examine the relatedness of CHIK and ONN viruses using genetic data, we conducted phylogenetic studies on isolates obtained throughout Africa and Southeast Asia. Analyses revealed that ONN virus is indeed distinct from CHIK viruses, and these viruses probably diverged thousands of years ago. Two distinct CHIK virus lineages were delineated, one containing all isolates from western Africa and the second comprising all southern and East African strains, as well as isolates from Asia. Phylogenetic trees corroborated historical evidence that CHIK virus originated in Africa and subsequently was introduced into Asia, Within the eastern Africa and southern Africa/Asia lineage, Asian strains grouped together in a genotype distinct from the African groups. These different geographical genotypes exhibit differences in their transmission cycles: in Asia, the virus appears to be maintained in an urban cycle with Aedes aegypti mosquito vectors, while CHIK virus transmission in Africa involves a sylvatic cycle, primarily with Ae. furcifer and Ae. africanus mosquitoes.
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