The expansion of hypervirulent sequence type 4821 clonal complex (CC4821) lineage Neisseria meningitidis bacteria has led to a shift in meningococcal disease epidemiology in China, from serogroup A (MenA) to MenC. Knowledge regarding the evolution and genetic origin of the emergent MenC strains is limited. In this study, we subjected 76 CC4821 isolates collected across China during 1972-1977 and 2005-2013 to phylogenetic analysis, traditional genotyping, or both. We show that successive recombination events within genes encoding surface antigens and acquisition of quinolone resistance mutations possibly played a role in the emergence of CC4821 as an epidemic clone in China. MenC and MenB CC4821 strains have spread across China and have been detected in several countries in different continents. Capsular switches involving serogroups B and C occurred among epidemic strains, raising concerns regarding possible increases in MenB disease, given that vaccines in use in China do not protect against MenB.
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