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Sequence analysis of measles virus strains collected during the pre- and early-vaccination era in Denmark reveals a considerable diversity of ancient strains

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A total of 199 serum samples from patients with measles collected in Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands from 1964 to 1983 were analysed by PCR. Measles virus (MV) RNA could be detected in 38 (19%) of the samples and a total of 18 strains were subjected to partial sequence analysis of the hemagglutinin gene. The strains exhibited a considerable genomic diversity, which is at odds with the assumption that one genome type prevailed among globally circulating MV strains prior to the advent of live-attenuated vaccines. Our data indicate that the similarity of the various vaccine strains is attributed to their having originated from the same primary isolate. Consequently, it is implied that a small number of clinical manifestations of MV worldwide from which strains similar to the vaccine strain were identified were vaccine related rather than being caused by members of a persistently circulating ancient genome type. The Danish pre- and early-vaccination era MV strains seem to change the evolutionary spectrum of genome types A, C2 and E into one coherent group, suggesting that the genome types of MV strains circulating in the world at present do not represent far ranging evolutionary lineages but merely members of an evolutionary continuum of pre-vaccination era MV strains which by chance or due to an improved capability survived the worldwide partial herd immunity accomplished through vaccination.
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Keywords: Measles; evolution; molecular epidemiology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Clinical Microbiology, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, 2: Department of Ecology and Genetics, University of Aarhus, and 3: Department of Virology, Statens Serum Institut, Copenhagen, Denmark

Publication date: February 1, 2002

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