Tick-borne flaviviruses (TBF) are widely dispersed across Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania, and North America, and some present a significant threat to human health. Seminal studies on tick-borne encephalitis viruses (TBEV), based on partial envelope gene sequences, predicted a westward clinal pattern of evolution and dispersal across northern Eurasia, terminating in the British Isles. We tested this hypothesis using all available full-length open reading frame (ORF) TBF sequences. Phylogenetic analysis was consistent with current reports. However, linear and nonlinear regression analysis of genetic versus geographic distance combined with BEAST analysis identified two separate clines, suggesting that TBEV spread both east and west from a central point. In addition, BEAST analysis suggested that TBF emerged and dispersed more than 16,000 years ago, significantly earlier than previously predicted. Thus, climatic and ecological changes may have played a greater role in TBF dispersal than humans.
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