Since the 1990s West Nile virus (WNV) has become an increasingly important public health problem and the cause of outbreaks of neurological disease. Genetic analyses have identified multiple lineages with many studies focusing on lineage 1 due to its emergence in New York in 1999 and its neuroinvasive phenotype. Until recently, viruses in lineage 2 were not thought to be of public health importance due to few outbreaks of disease being associated with viruses in this lineage. However, recent epidemics of lineage 2 in Europe (Greece and Italy) and Russia have shown the increasing importance of this lineage. There are very few genetic studies examining isolates belonging to lineage 2. We have sequenced the full-length genomes of four older lineage 2 WNV isolates, compared them to 12 previously published genomic sequences and examined the evolution of this lineage. Our studies show that this lineage has evolved over the past 300- 400 years and appears to correlate with a change from mouse attenuated to virulent phenotype Received 15 August 2012 based on previous studies by our group. This evolution mirrors that which is seen in lineage 1 isolates, which have also evolved to a virulent phenotype over the same period of time.
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