Molecular Epidemiology and Evolutionary Dynamics of Human Influenza Type-A Viruses in Africa: A Systematic Review

Genomic characterization of circulating influenza type-A viruses (IAVs) directs the selection of appropriate vaccine formulations and early detection of potentially pandemic virus strains. However, longitudinal data on the genomic evolution and transmission of IAVs in Africa are scarce, limiting Africa´s benefits from potential influenza control strategies. We searched seven databases: African Journals Online, Embase, Global Health, Google Scholar, PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science according to the PRISMA guidelines for studies that sequenced and/or genomically characterized Africa IAVs. Our review highlights the emergence and diversification of IAVs in Africa since 1993. Circulating strains continuously acquired new amino acid substitutions at the major antigenic and potential N-linked glycosylation sites in their hemagglutinin proteins, which dramatically affected vaccine protectiveness. Africa IAVs phylogenetically mixed with global strains forming strong temporal and geographical evolution structures. Phylogeographic analyses confirmed that viral migration into Africa from abroad, especially South Asia, Europe, and North America, and extensive local viral mixing sustained the genomic diversity, antigenic drift, and persistence of IAVs in Africa. However, the role of reassortment and zoonosis remains unknown. Interestingly, we observed substitutions and clades and persistent viral lineages unique to Africa. Therefore, Africa´s contribution to the global influenza ecology may be understated. Our results were geographically biased, with data from 63% (34/54) of African countries. Thus, there is a need to expand influenza surveillance across Africa and prioritize routine whole-genome sequencing and genomic analysis to detect new strains early for effective viral control.