Introduction: The globally emergent Zika virus (ZIKV) is a threat to Australia, given the number of imported cases from epidemic regions and the presence of competent mosquito vectors. We report the isolation of ZIKV from a female traveler who recently returned from Tonga to Brisbane, Queensland, Australia in 2016.
Methods: A specific TaqMan real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction assay (RT-PCR) assay was used to detect ZIKV in serum and urine samples. Conventional cell culture techniques and suckling mice were employed in an attempt to isolate ZIKV from serum and urine.
Results: A ZIKV isolate (TS17-2016) was recovered from the serum sample after one passage in suckling mouse brains and harvested 11 days post inoculation. Phylogenetic analysis of complete envelope (E) gene sequences demonstrated TS17-2016 shared 99.9% nucleotide identity with other contemporary sequences from Tonga 2016, Brazil 2015 and French Polynesia 2013 within the Asian lineage.
Discussion: This is the first known report of successful isolation of ZIKV from a human clinical sample in Australia and the first from a traveler from Tonga. This study highlights the potential difficulties in isolating ZIKV from acute clinical samples using conventional cell culture techniques, particularly in non-endemic countries like Australia where access to samples of sufficient viral load is limited. The successful isolation of TS17-2016 will be essential for continued investigations of ZIKV transmission and pathogenicity and will enable the advancement of new preventative control measures extremely relevant to the Australian and Pacific region.