Taiwan suffered a severe and widespread outbreak of enterovirus infection in 1998. More than 400 children were hospitalized, with seventy-eight fatalities due to central nerve system (CNS) involvement and cardiopulmonary collapse. Enterovirus 71 (EV71) was incriminated as the causative agent for the fatal cases. To understand the viral molecular epidemiology in this outbreak, fragments of 207-bp length of the VP4 region in 23 Taiwanese EV 71 isolates were sequenced. Pair-wise comparison revealed a 17.5-24.4% difference between the isolates and the prototype BrCr. However, all the changes in the VP4 region of the isolated strains were synonymous substitutions. Phylogenetic analysis was performed on these 23 isolates and 21 others deposited in GenBank. In this study, forty-four EV71 isolates from the world were separated into three distinct genotypes: A, B and C. The EV71 prototype strain, BrCr/70, is the only strain of genotype A. Group B included strains from the United States, Japan and Taiwan. Most strains in genotype B were isolated prior to 1990. Group C consisted of strains from Japan and Taiwan. Most strains of genotype C were isolated after 1990, they were further divided into 3 clusters: i.e. C-1, C-2 and C-3. In Taiwan, two genotypes, B and C-3, were co-circulating during the outbreak in 1998, although a minor group of genotype B may have appeared in Taiwan before 1986. The majority of the isolates clustered in genotype C-3. Genotype C showed a higher evolutionary rate than genotype B (3.9 × 10-3 vs. 1.4 × 10-3) in the VP4 region. There seems to be a worldwide trend with strains of genotype B appearing earlier than strains of genotype C which took over later in the dominance.
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