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  1. Al-Khannaq MN, Ng KT, Oong XY, Pang YK, Takebe Y, Chook JB, et al.
    Virol. J., 2016 Feb 25;13:33.
    PMID: 26916286 DOI: 10.1186/s12985-016-0488-4
    BACKGROUND: Despite the worldwide circulation of human coronavirus OC43 (HCoV-OC43) and HKU1 (HCoV-HKU1), data on their molecular epidemiology and evolutionary dynamics in the tropical Southeast Asia region is lacking.
    METHODS: The study aimed to investigate the genetic diversity, temporal distribution, population history and clinical symptoms of betacoronavirus infections in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia between 2012 and 2013. A total of 2,060 adults presented with acute respiratory symptoms were screened for the presence of betacoronaviruses using multiplex PCR. The spike glycoprotein, nucleocapsid and 1a genes were sequenced for phylogenetic reconstruction and Bayesian coalescent inference.
    RESULTS: A total of 48/2060 (2.4 %) specimens were tested positive for HCoV-OC43 (1.3 %) and HCoV-HKU1 (1.1 %). Both HCoV-OC43 and HCoV-HKU1 were co-circulating throughout the year, with the lowest detection rates reported in the October-January period. Phylogenetic analysis of the spike gene showed that the majority of HCoV-OC43 isolates were grouped into two previously undefined genotypes, provisionally assigned as novel lineage 1 and novel lineage 2. Sign of natural recombination was observed in these potentially novel lineages. Location mapping showed that the novel lineage 1 is currently circulating in Malaysia, Thailand, Japan and China, while novel lineage 2 can be found in Malaysia and China. Molecular dating showed the origin of HCoV-OC43 around late 1950s, before it diverged into genotypes A (1960s), B (1990s), and other genotypes (2000s). Phylogenetic analysis revealed that 27.3 % of the HCoV-HKU1 strains belong to genotype A while 72.7 % belongs to genotype B. The tree root of HCoV-HKU1 was similar to that of HCoV-OC43, with the tMRCA of genotypes A and B estimated around the 1990s and 2000s, respectively. Correlation of HCoV-OC43 and HCoV-HKU1 with the severity of respiratory symptoms was not observed.
    CONCLUSIONS: The present study reported the molecular complexity and evolutionary dynamics of human betacoronaviruses among adults with acute respiratory symptoms in a tropical country. Two novel HCoV-OC43 genetic lineages were identified, warranting further investigation on their genotypic and phenotypic characteristics.
    Study site: Primary Care Clinic, University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  2. Al-Khannaq MN, Ng KT, Oong XY, Pang YK, Takebe Y, Chook JB, et al.
    Am. J. Trop. Med. Hyg., 2016 05 04;94(5):1058-64.
    PMID: 26928836 DOI: 10.4269/ajtmh.15-0810
    The human alphacoronaviruses HCoV-NL63 and HCoV-229E are commonly associated with upper respiratory tract infections (URTI). Information on their molecular epidemiology and evolutionary dynamics in the tropical region of southeast Asia however is limited. Here, we analyzed the phylogenetic, temporal distribution, population history, and clinical manifestations among patients infected with HCoV-NL63 and HCoV-229E. Nasopharyngeal swabs were collected from 2,060 consenting adults presented with acute URTI symptoms in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, between 2012 and 2013. The presence of HCoV-NL63 and HCoV-229E was detected using multiplex polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The spike glycoprotein, nucleocapsid, and 1a genes were sequenced for phylogenetic reconstruction and Bayesian coalescent inference. A total of 68/2,060 (3.3%) subjects were positive for human alphacoronavirus; HCoV-NL63 and HCoV-229E were detected in 45 (2.2%) and 23 (1.1%) patients, respectively. A peak in the number of HCoV-NL63 infections was recorded between June and October 2012. Phylogenetic inference revealed that 62.8% of HCoV-NL63 infections belonged to genotype B, 37.2% was genotype C, while all HCoV-229E sequences were clustered within group 4. Molecular dating analysis indicated that the origin of HCoV-NL63 was dated to 1921, before it diverged into genotype A (1975), genotype B (1996), and genotype C (2003). The root of the HCoV-229E tree was dated to 1955, before it diverged into groups 1-4 between the 1970s and 1990s. The study described the seasonality, molecular diversity, and evolutionary dynamics of human alphacoronavirus infections in a tropical region.
  3. Oong XY, Ng KT, Lam TT, Pang YK, Chan KG, Hanafi NS, et al.
    PLoS ONE, 2015;10(8):e0136254.
    PMID: 26313754 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0136254
    Epidemiological and evolutionary dynamics of influenza B Victoria and Yamagata lineages remained poorly understood in the tropical Southeast Asia region, despite causing seasonal outbreaks worldwide. From 2012-2014, nasopharyngeal swab samples collected from outpatients experiencing acute upper respiratory tract infection symptoms in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, were screened for influenza viruses using a multiplex RT-PCR assay. Among 2,010/3,935 (51.1%) patients infected with at least one respiratory virus, 287 (14.3%) and 183 (9.1%) samples were tested positive for influenza A and B viruses, respectively. Influenza-positive cases correlate significantly with meteorological factors-total amount of rainfall, relative humidity, number of rain days, ground temperature and particulate matter (PM10). Phylogenetic reconstruction of haemagglutinin (HA) gene from 168 influenza B viruses grouped them into Yamagata Clade 3 (65, 38.7%), Yamagata Clade 2 (48, 28.6%) and Victoria Clade 1 (55, 32.7%). With neuraminidase (NA) phylogeny, 30 intra-clade (29 within Yamagata Clade 3, 1 within Victoria Clade 1) and 1 inter-clade (Yamagata Clade 2-HA/Yamagata Clade 3-NA) reassortants were identified. Study of virus temporal dynamics revealed a lineage shift from Victoria to Yamagata (2012-2013), and a clade shift from Yamagata Clade 2 to Clade 3 (2013-2014). Yamagata Clade 3 predominating in 2014 consisted of intra-clade reassortants that were closely related to a recent WHO vaccine candidate strain (B/Phuket/3073/2013), with the reassortment event occurred approximately 2 years ago based on Bayesian molecular clock estimation. Malaysian Victoria Clade 1 viruses carried H274Y substitution in the active site of neuraminidase, which confers resistance to oseltamivir. Statistical analyses on clinical and demographic data showed Yamagata-infected patients were older and more likely to experience headache while Victoria-infected patients were more likely to experience nasal congestion and sore throat. This study describes the evolution of influenza B viruses in Malaysia and highlights the importance of continuous surveillance for better vaccination in this region.
    Study site: Primary Care clinic, University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  4. Oong XY, Ng KT, Takebe Y, Ng LJ, Chan KG, Chook JB, et al.
    Emerg Microbes Infect, 2017 Jan 04;6(1):e3.
    PMID: 28050020 DOI: 10.1038/emi.2016.132
    Human coronavirus OC43 (HCoV-OC43) is commonly associated with respiratory tract infections in humans, with five genetically distinct genotypes (A to E) described so far. In this study, we obtained the full-length genomes of HCoV-OC43 strains from two previously unrecognized lineages identified among patients presenting with severe upper respiratory tract symptoms in a cross-sectional molecular surveillance study in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, between 2012 and 2013. Phylogenetic, recombination and comparative genomic analyses revealed two distinct clusters diverging from a genotype D-like common ancestor through recombination with a putative genotype A-like lineage in the non-structural protein (nsp) 10 gene. Signature amino acid substitutions and a glycine residue insertion at the N-terminal domain of the S1 subunit of the spike gene, among others, exhibited further distinction in a recombination pattern, to which these clusters were classified as genotypes F and G. The phylogeographic mapping of the global spike gene indicated that the genetically similar HCoV-OC43 genotypes F and G strains were potentially circulating in China, Japan, Thailand and Europe as early as the late 2000s. The transmission network construction based on the TN93 pairwise genetic distance revealed the emergence and persistence of multiple sub-epidemic clusters of the highly prevalent genotype D and its descendant genotypes F and G, which contributed to the spread of HCoV-OC43 in the region. Finally, a more consistent nomenclature system for non-recombinant and recombinant HCoV-OC43 lineages is proposed, taking into account genetic recombination as an important feature in HCoV evolution and classification.
  5. Oong XY, Ng KT, Tan JL, Chan KG, Kamarulzaman A, Chan YF, et al.
    PLoS ONE, 2017;12(1):e0170610.
    PMID: 28129386 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0170610
    Reassortment of genetic segments between and within influenza B lineages (Victoria and Yamagata) has been shown to generate novel reassortants with unique genetic characteristics. Based on hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA) genes, recent surveillance study has identified reassortment properties in B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus, which is currently used in the WHO-recommended influenza vaccine. To understand the potential reassortment patterns for all gene segments, four B/Phuket/3073/2013-like viruses and two unique reassortants (one each from Yamagata and Victoria) detected in Malaysia from 2012-2014 were subjected to whole-genome sequencing. Each gene was phylogenetically classified into lineages, clades and sub-clades. Three B/Phuket/3073/2013-like viruses from Yamagata lineage were found to be intra-clade reassortants, possessing PA and NA genes derived from Stockholm/12-like sub-clade, while the remaining genes from Wisconsin/01-like sub-clade (both sub-clades were within Yamagata Clade 3/Yam-3). However, the other B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus had NS gene that derived from Stockholm/12-like sub-clade instead of Wisconsin/01-like sub-clade. One inter-clade reassortant had Yamagata Clade 2/Yam-2-derived HA and NP, and its remaining genes were Yam-3-derived. Within Victoria Clade 1/Vic-1 in Victoria lineage, one virus had intra-clade reassortment properties: HA and PB2 from Vic-1B sub-clade, MP and NS from a unique sub-clade "Vic-1C", and the remaining genes from Vic-1A sub-clade. Although random reassortment event may generate unique reassortants, detailed phylogenetic classification of gene segments showed possible genetic linkage between PA and NA genes in B/Phuket/3073/2013-like viruses, which requires further investigation. Understanding on reassortment patterns in influenza B evolution may contribute to future vaccine design.
  6. Ng KT, Chook JB, Oong XY, Chan YF, Chan KG, Hanafi NS, et al.
    Sci Rep, 2016 10 10;6:34855.
    PMID: 27721388 DOI: 10.1038/srep34855
    Human rhinovirus (HRV) is the major aetiology of respiratory tract infections. HRV viral load assays are available but limitations that affect accurate quantification exist. We developed a one-step Taqman assay using oligonucleotides designed based on a comprehensive list of global HRV sequences. The new oligonucleotides targeting the 5'-UTR region showed high PCR efficiency (E = 99.6%, R2 = 0.996), with quantifiable viral load as low as 2 viral copies/μl. Assay evaluation using an External Quality Assessment (EQA) panel yielded a detection rate of 90%. When tested on 315 human enterovirus-positive specimens comprising at least 84 genetically distinct HRV types/serotypes (determined by the VP4/VP2 gene phylogenetic analysis), the assay detected all HRV species and types, as well as other non-polio enteroviruses. A commercial quantification kit, which failed to detect any of the EQA specimens, produced a detection rate of 13.3% (42/315) among the clinical specimens. Using the improved assay, we showed that HRV sheds in the upper respiratory tract for more than a week following acute infection. We also showed that HRV-C had a significantly higher viral load at 2-7 days after the onset of symptoms (p = 0.001). The availability of such assay is important to facilitate disease management, antiviral development, and infection control.
  7. Chow WZ, Chan YF, Oong XY, Ng LJ, Nor'E SS, Ng KT, et al.
    Sci Rep, 2016 06 09;6:27730.
    PMID: 27279080 DOI: 10.1038/srep27730
    Human metapneumovirus (HMPV) is an important viral respiratory pathogen worldwide. Current knowledge regarding the genetic diversity, seasonality and transmission dynamics of HMPV among adults and children living in tropical climate remains limited. HMPV prevailed at 2.2% (n = 86/3,935) among individuals presented with acute respiratory tract infections in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia between 2012 and 2014. Seasonal peaks were observed during the northeast monsoon season (November-April) and correlated with higher relative humidity and number of rainy days (P 
  8. Ng KT, Oong XY, Lim SH, Chook JB, Takebe Y, Chan YF, et al.
    Clin. Infect. Dis., 2018 07 02;67(2):261-268.
    PMID: 29385423 DOI: 10.1093/cid/ciy063
    Background: Rhinovirus (RV) is one of the main viral etiologic agents of acute respiratory illnesses. Despite the heightened disease burden caused by RV, the viral factors that increase the severity of RV infection, the transmission pattern, and seasonality of RV infections remain unclear.

    Methods: An observational study was conducted among 3935 patients presenting with acute upper respiratory illnesses in the ambulatory settings between 2012 and 2014.

    Results: The VP4/VP2 gene was genotyped from all 976 RV-positive specimens, where the predominance of RV-A (49%) was observed, followed by RV-C (38%) and RV-B (13%). A significant regression in median nasopharyngeal viral load (VL) (P < .001) was observed, from 883 viral copies/µL at 1-2 days after symptom onset to 312 viral copies/µL at 3-4 days and 158 viral copies/µL at 5-7 days, before declining to 35 viral copies/µL at ≥8 days. In comparison with RV-A (median VL, 217 copies/µL) and RV-B (median VL, 275 copies/µL), RV-C-infected subjects produced higher VL (505 copies/µL; P < .001). Importantly, higher RV VL (median, 348 copies/µL) was associated with more severe respiratory symptoms (Total Symptom Severity Score ≥17, P = .017). A total of 83 phylogenetic-based transmission clusters were identified in the population. It was observed that the relative humidity was the strongest environmental predictor of RV seasonality in the tropical climate.

    Conclusions: Our findings underline the role of VL in increasing disease severity attributed to RV-C infection, and unravel the factors that fuel the population transmission dynamics of RV.

  9. Oong XY, Chook JB, Ng KT, Chow WZ, Chan KG, Hanafi NS, et al.
    Virol. J., 2018 05 23;15(1):91.
    PMID: 29792212 DOI: 10.1186/s12985-018-1005-8
    BACKGROUND: Human metapneumovirus (HMPV) is established as one of the causative agents of respiratory tract infections. To date, there are limited reports that describe the effect of HMPV genotypes and/or viral load on disease pathogenesis in adults. This study aims to determine the role of HMPV genetic diversity and nasopharyngeal viral load on symptom severity in outpatient adults with acute respiratory tract infections.
    METHODS: Severity of common cold symptoms of patients from a teaching hospital was assessed by a four-category scale and summed to obtain the total symptom severity score (TSSS). Association between the fusion and glycoprotein genes diversity, viral load (quantified using an improved RT-qPCR assay), and symptom severity were analyzed using bivariate and linear regression analyses.
    RESULTS: Among 81/3706 HMPV-positive patients, there were no significant differences in terms of demographics, number of days elapsed between symptom onset and clinic visit, respiratory symptoms manifestation and severity between different HMPV genotypes/sub-lineages. Surprisingly, elderly patients (≥65 years old) had lower severity of symptoms (indicated by TSSS) than young and middle age adults (p = 0.008). Nasopharyngeal viral load did not correlate with nor predict symptom severity of HMPV infection. Interestingly, at 3-5 days after symptom onset, genotype A-infected patients had higher viral load compared to genotype B (4.4 vs. 3.3 log10 RNA copies/μl) (p = 0.003).
    CONCLUSIONS: Overall, HMPV genetic diversity and viral load did not impact symptom severity in adults with acute respiratory tract infections. Differences in viral load dynamics over time between genotypes may have important implications on viral transmission.
    Study site: Primary Care Clinic, University of Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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