First dengue haemorrhagic fever epidemic in the Americas, 1981: insights into the causative agent
Historical records describe a disease in North America that clinically resembled dengue haemorrhagic fever during the latter part of the slave-trading period. However, the dengue epidemic that occurred in Cuba in 1981 was the first laboratory-confirmed and clinically diagnosed outbreak of dengue haemorrhagic fever in the Americas. At that time, the presumed source of the dengue type 2 strain isolated during this epidemic was considered controversial, partly because of the limited sequence data and partly because the origin of the virus appeared to be southern Asia. Here, we present a molecular characterisation at the whole-genome level of the original strains isolated at different time points during the epidemic. Phylogenetic trees constructed using Bayesian methods indicated that 1981 Cuban strains group within the Asian 2 genotype. In addition, the study revealed that viral evolution occurred during the epidemic – a fact that could be related to the increasing severity from month to month. Moreover, the Cuban strains exhibited particular amino acid substitutions that differentiate them from the New Guinea C prototype strain as well as from dengue type 2 strains isolated globally.