Epidemiological and molecular features of dengue virus type-1 in New Caledonia, South Pacific, 2001–2013
© Dupont-Rouzeyrol et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2014
Received: 24 October 2013
Accepted: 27 March 2014
Published: 31 March 2014
The epidemiology of dengue in the South Pacific has been characterized by transmission of a single dominant serotype for 3–5 years, with subsequent replacement by another serotype. From 2001 to 2008 only DENV-1 was reported in the Pacific. In 2008, DENV-4 emerged and quickly displaced DENV-1 in the Pacific, except in New Caledonia (NC) where DENV-1 and DENV-4 co-circulated in 2008–2009. During 2012–2013, another DENV-1 outbreak occurred in NC, the third DENV-1 outbreak in a decade. Given that dengue is a serotype-specific immunizing infection, the recurrent outbreaks of a single serotype within a 10-year period was unexpected.
This study aimed to inform this phenomenon by examining the phylogenetic characteristics of the DENV-1 viruses in NC and other Pacific islands between 2001 and 2013. As a result, we have demonstrated that NC experienced introductions of viruses from both the Pacific (genotype IV) and South-east Asia (genotype I). Moreover, whereas genotype IV and I were co-circulating at the beginning of 2012, we observed that from the second half of 2012, i.e. during the major DENV-1 outbreak, all analyzed viruses were genotype I suggesting that a genotype switch occurred.
Repeated outbreaks of the same dengue serotype, as observed in NC, is uncommon in the Pacific islands. Why the earlier DENV-1 outbreaks did not induce sufficient herd immunity is unclear, and likely multifactorial, but the robust vector control program may have played a role by limiting transmission and thus maintaining a large susceptible pool in the population.
Dengue is the most prevalent arthropod-borne viral infection of humans in tropical and subtropical countries. Every year, dengue virus (DENV) infections cause more than 50 million cases, 500 000 hospitalizations and 12 500 deaths in the world[1, 2]. DENV is a single-stranded, positive-sense RNA virus of the genus Flavivirus transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. There are four distinct serotypes (DENV-1 to DENV-4) and infection with one does not provide long-term cross-protective immunity against the three others[3, 4]. Based on the sequence of the envelope gene (E), each serotype may be divided into distinct genotypes often associated with specific geographical regions. Both epidemiological observations and in vitro studies suggest that distinct genotypes have different potential to cause severe dengue epidemics[5–7]. Thus, molecular epidemiologic studies have become a critical issue for understanding epidemic patterns of viral spread.
In the Pacific, dengue epidemics were mainly caused by a single serotype/genotype introduced from a hyper-endemic continental country. In individual Pacific Islands Countries and Territories (PICTs) the epidemiology of dengue is heterogeneous. Small PICTs sustain DENV transmission for only several months, while larger ones, like French Polynesia (PF) or New Caledonia (NC), may experience active circulation of a single serotype/genotype for several years until the emergence of a new epidemic viral strain[8–10]. In this study, we reconstruct the epidemiological and phylogenetic history of DENV-1 in NC during the last decade to better understand the NC dengue epidemiology.
New Caledonia dengue epidemiological data from the years 2001 to 2013
Main DENV serotype
Number of deathsb
1 and 4
1 and 4
The occurrence of two consecutive outbreaks due to the same dengue serotype had historically already been observed in NC and other PICTs[7, 11]. Thus, the re-emergence of DENV-1 in NC in 2008, i.e. five years after the previous DENV-1 outbreak, was not surprising, particularly given the active circulation of the virus in PF. However, what was unexpected was the fact that DENV-1 was not replaced by DENV-4 during the 2008–2009 outbreak and that both serotype circulated during more than a year. The absence of serotype replacement contrasts with the historical data on the epidemiology of dengue in PICTs and with the situation reported during the same period in other PICTs[10, 15]. Otherwise in contrast with the NC historical dengue epidemiological profile DENV-1 re-emerged in NC in 2012 although this serotype had already circulated in the country for ten years. As suggested by our phylogenetic analyses the recurrent re-emergences of DENV-1 over the last decade in NC mainly resulted from introductions of “Pacific clade” genotype IV viruses from other PICTs, particularly PF. In addition introduction of South-east Asian genotype I viruses also contributed to the circulation of DENV-1 in NC, at least transiently in 2002–2003[8, 20] and sustainably in 2012–2013. The fact that introductions events led to sustainable circulation of DENV-1 and the occurrence of three consecutive outbreaks suggests that, at least until 2013, the NC population did not already had acquired sufficient herd immunity against DENV-1. The observation that NC experienced strong positive human migratory threshold during the past 5 years suggest that the pool of susceptible hosts may have been resupplied by new residents. Another factor that could have contributed to maintain the pool of susceptible hosts is the limitation of DENV-1 infection rates during the 2008–2009 outbreak, due to transient cross-protective immunity provided by the co-circulation of DENV-4. An alternative factor that might have contributed to maintain the proportion of susceptible hosts to a level compatible with sustained DENV-1 transmission is the vector control pressure. For several years, NC Health Authorities have invested lots of efforts in maintaining efficient vector control. Combined to the NC standard of living (air conditioning…) and to climate conditions less favorable to DENV transmission during the cool season, vector control measures might have contributed to modify dengue epidemiological profile. An additional factor that could have contributed to sustainable transmission of DENV-1 in NC in 2012–2013 is the emergence of Asian genotype I. Indeed, this is the first evidence of a genotype switch (Pacific to Asian) in NC and in the Pacific region. This observation supports the hypothesis that transmission of Asian genotype I was particularly efficient in the context of NC in 2012–2013. Indeed it has been shown that genotype switch can favour the persistence of a serotype in a specific environment and that distinct genotypes can display different epidemic potential[6, 7, 24, 25]. Finally, what has been observed in NC might be the beginning of a new situation regarding the dengue circulation profile in the Pacific.
We are grateful to M. Kama (Fiji), M. Nosa (Niue) and K. Tabutoa (Kiribati) for releasing access to their DENV sequences. We thank E. Calvez and A. Rouby for participating in the sequences analysis, L. Guillaumot, S. Mermond and D. Baudon for scientific support and the Immuno-Molecular biology lab from Institut Pasteur New Caledonia. Part of the sequencing experiments were performed on « La Plateforme du Vivant », Noumea, New Caledonia.
This work was supported by the “Fonds de Coopération Economique, Sociale et Culturelle pour le Pacifique”, Ministère des Affaires Etrangères et Européennes, France (Conventions Nu138/1/2008, 75/1/2009) ; by the “Agence Nationale pour la Recherche”, France (ANR-09-MIEN-028-01/02) and the New Caledonia Government. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
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