Emergence in 2017-2019 of novel reassortant equine-like G3 Rotavirus strains in Palermo, Sicily.
Rotavirus A (RVA) is a major etiologic agent of gastroenteritis in children worldwide. Hospital-based surveillance of viral gastroenteritis in paediatric population in Palermo (Italy) from 2017 onwards revealed a sharp increase in G3P RVAs, accounting for 71% of all the RVAs detected in 2019. This pattern had not been observed before in Italy, with G3 RVA usually being detected at rates lower than 3%. In order to investigate this unique epidemiological pattern, the genetic diversity of G3 RVAs identified during a 16-year long surveillance (2004-2019) was explored by systematic sequencing of the VP7 and VP4 genes and by whole genome sequencing of selected G3 strains, representative of the various RVA seasons. Sequence and phylogenetic analyses of the VP7 and VP4 genes revealed the emergence, in 2017 of reassortant equine-like G3P, which gradually replaced former G3P strains. The G3P circulating before 2017 showed a Wa-like constellation of genome segments while the G3P that emerged in 2017 had a DS-1-like backbone. On direct inspection of the VP7 and VP4 antigenic epitopes, the equine-like G3P strains possessed several amino acid variations in neutralizing regions compared with vaccine strains. The equine-like G3P RVAs are a further example of the zoonotic impact of animal viruses on human health.