Flaviviruses are among the most important emerging viruses known to man. Most are arboviruses (arthropod-borne) being transmitted by mosquitoes or ticks. They derived from a common ancestor 10-20 000 years ago and are evolving rapidly to fill new ecological niches. Many are spreading to new geographical areas and causing increased numbers of infections. Traditionally, three clinical syndromes are recognized: fever-arthralgia-rash, viral haemorrhagic fever, and neurological disease, though for some flaviviruses the disease pattern is changing. Dengue, the most important flavivirus, is transmitted between humans by Aedes mosquitoes. Recent work is elucidating the pathogenesis of its most severe form, dengue haemorrhagic fever. Yellow fever, which has epidemiological similarities to dengue, was under control in the mid-20th century, but is once again increasing. Japanese encephalitis virus is numerically the most important cause of epidemic encephalitis; its geographical area is expanding despite the availability of vaccines. Other mosquito-borne neurotropic flaviviruses with clinical and epidemiological similarities are found across the globe. These include St Louis encephalitis virus, Murray Valley encephalitis virus, and West Nile virus, which recently reached the Americas for the first time. In cooler northern climates ticks are more important vectors. Tick-borne encephalitis virus occurs across large parts of Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent states. The tick-borne haemorrhagic flaviviruses, Omsk haemorrhagic fever and Kyasanur Forrest disease are localized in small areas. © 2001 The British Infection Society.
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