Non-malarial febrile illness outbreaks were documented in 2007 and 2010 in Gabon. After investigation, these outbreaks were attributed to the chikungunya and dengue viruses (CHIKV and DENV). However, for more than half of the samples analyzed, the causative agent was not identified. Given the geographical and ecological position of Gabon, where there is a great animal and microbial diversity, the circulation of other emerging viruses was suspected in these samples lacking aetiology. A total of 436 undiagnosed samples, collected between 2007 and 2013, and originating from 14 urban, suburban, and rural Gabonese locations were selected. These samples were used for viral isolation on newborn mice and VERO cells. In samples with signs of viral replication, cell supernatants and brain suspensions were used to extract nucleic acids and perform real-time RT-PCR targeting specific arboviruses, i.e., CHIKV, DENV, yellow fever, Rift Valley fever, and West Nile and Zika viruses. Virus isolation was conclusive for 43 samples either on newborn mice or by cell culture. Virus identification by RT-PCR led to the identification of CHIKV in 37 isolates. A total of 18 complete genomes and 19 partial sequences containing the E2 and E1 genes of CHIKV were sequenced using next-generation sequencing technology or the Sanger method. Phylogenetic analysis of the complete genomes showed that all the sequences belong to the East Central South Africa lineage. Furthermore, we identified 2 distinct clusters. The first cluster was made up of sequences from the western part of Gabon, whereas the second cluster was made up of sequences from the southern regions, reflecting the way CHIKV spread across the country following its initial introduction in 2007. Similar results were obtained when analyzing the CHIKV genes of the E2 and E1 structural proteins. Moreover, study of the mutations found in the E2 and E1 structural proteins revealed the presence of several mutations that facilitate the adaptation to the Aedes albopictus mosquito, such as E2 I211T and E1 A226V, in all the Gabonese CHIKV strains. Finally, sequencing of 6 additional viral isolates failed to lead to any conclusive identification.
Keywords: Chikungunya virus; Emerging viruses; Gabon; Next-generation sequencing; Virus isolation.
© 2019 S. Karger AG, Basel.