Insights into the Evolutionary Origin of Mediterranean Sandfly Fever Viruses

mSphere. 2020 Sep 2;5(5):e00598-20. doi: 10.1128/mSphere.00598-20.


Sandfly-transmitted phleboviruses (family Phenuiviridae, order Bunyavirales) are associated with febrile illness and infections of the nervous system in humans. These viruses are almost exclusively found in tropical areas of the New World and restricted to semiarid and temperate zones in the Old World. Here, we discovered seven strains of four previously unknown phleboviruses, named Bogoria virus (BOGV), Embossos virus (EMRV), Kiborgoch virus (KBGV), and Perkerra virus (PERV), as well as the recently discovered Ntepes virus, in sandflies collected in the Kenyan Rift Valley. The genomes have a tripartite organization with conserved termini typical of phleboviruses. LOBV, PERV, and EMBV showed low similarity to known phleboviruses, with less than 55% pairwise amino acid identities in the RNA-directed RNA polymerase (RdRp) proteins, and defined a highly diversified monophyletic clade in sister relationship to the sandfly fever Sicilian serocomplex. All three viruses failed to react with sandfly fever Sicilian virus antisera in recombinant immunofluorescence assays (rIFA), suggesting that the viruses belong to a yet-unknown serogroup. In contrast, KBGV was closely related to Toscana virus (84% identity of RdRp proteins) and shared a most recent common ancestor with the clade comprising sandfly fever Naples and Toscana viruses. KBGV reacted with sandfly fever Naples and Toscana virus antisera in rIFA. The genetic diversity of the detected viruses and their phylogenetic positions implies that the Old World sandfly-borne phleboviruses originated from sub-Saharan Africa. Importantly, our findings suggest that diseases associated with sandfly-borne phlebovirus infections may also affect the Kenyan population.IMPORTANCE Studies on the genetic diversity of arthropod-borne viruses circulating in rural regions can provide critical early indications on new emerging viruses essential for global epidemic preparedness. In this study, we describe the discovery of four phleboviruses in sandflies from the Kenyan Rift Valley. The novel viruses are related to the two medically important serocomplexes, sandfly fever Naples and sandfly fever Sicilian, that are associated with febrile illness and neuroinvasive infections and which were previously not known to occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Knowledge on the occurrence of sandfly-borne phleboviruses in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa can help to decipher their contributions in the etiologies of fevers of unknown origin in patients. Our findings on five genetically diverse phleboviruses detected in Kenya suggest that the common ancestor of Old World phleboviruses existed in sub-Saharan Africa, a hot spot for emerging arboviruses.

Keywords: Kenya; Phenuiviridae; arbovirus; phlebovirus; sandfly.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Humans
  • Kenya
  • Phlebotomus Fever / virology*
  • Phlebovirus / classification*
  • Phlebovirus / genetics*
  • Phylogeny
  • Psychodidae / virology
  • Sandfly fever Naples virus / genetics
  • Viral Proteins / genetics


  • Viral Proteins