Phylogenomic analysis uncovers a 9-year variation of Uganda influenza type-A strains from the WHO-recommended vaccines and other Africa strains

Nabakooza G, Owuor DC, de Laurent ZR, Galiwango R, Owor N, Kayiwa JT, Jjingo D, Agoti CN, Nokes DJ, Kateete DP, Kitayimbwa JM, Frost SDW, Lutwama JJ
Sci Rep. 2023;13

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Genetic characterisation of circulating influenza viruses directs annual vaccine strain selection and mitigation of infection spread. We used next-generation sequencing to locally generate whole genomes from 116 A(H1N1)pdm09 and 118 A(H3N2) positive patient swabs collected across Uganda between 2010 and 2018. We recovered sequences from 92% (215/234) of the swabs, 90% (193/215) of which were whole genomes. The newly-generated sequences were genetically and phylogenetically compared to the WHO-recommended vaccines and other Africa strains sampled since 1994. Uganda strain hemagglutinin (n = 206), neuraminidase (n = 207), and matrix protein (MP, n = 213) sequences had 95.23-99.65%, 95.31-99.79%, and 95.46-100% amino acid similarity to the 2010-2020 season vaccines, respectively, with several mutated hemagglutinin antigenic, receptor binding, and N-linked glycosylation sites. Uganda influenza type-A virus strains sequenced before 2016 clustered uniquely while later strains mixed with other Africa and global strains. We are the first to report novel A(H1N1)pdm09 subclades 6B.1A.3, 6B.1A.5(a,b), and 6B.1A.6 (± T120A) that circulated in Eastern, Western, and Southern Africa in 2017-2019. Africa forms part of the global influenza ecology with high viral genetic diversity, progressive antigenic drift, and local transmissions. For a continent with inadequate health resources and where social distancing is unsustainable, vaccination is the best option. Hence, African stakeholders should prioritise routine genome sequencing and analysis to direct vaccine selection and virus control.