Phylogeographic reconstruction of the emergence and spread of Powassan virus in the northeastern United States

Document Type


Publication Date



Vector-borne Disease Laboratory, MaineHealth Institute for Research, Medical Education

Journal Title

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

MeSH Headings

Animals; Deer; Encephalitis Viruses, Tick-Borne; Ixodes; New England


Powassan virus is an emerging tick-borne virus of concern for public health, but very little is known about its transmission patterns and ecology. Here, we expanded the genomic dataset by sequencing 279 Powassan viruses isolated from ticks from the northeastern United States. Our phylogeographic reconstructions revealed that Powassan virus lineage II was likely introduced or emerged from a relict population in the Northeast between 1940 and 1975. Sequences strongly clustered by sampling location, suggesting a highly focal geographical distribution. Our analyses further indicated that Powassan virus lineage II emerged in the northeastern United States mostly following a south-to-north pattern, with a weighted lineage dispersal velocity of ~3 km/y. Since the emergence in the Northeast, we found an overall increase in the effective population size of Powassan virus lineage II, but with growth stagnating during recent years. The cascading effect of population expansion of white-tailed deer and populations likely facilitated the emergence of Powassan virus in the northeastern United States.

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