Human herpesvirus 6, HHV-6, commonly infects children, causing febrile illness and can cause more severe pathology, especially in an immune compromised setting. There are virulence distinctions between variants HHV-6A and B, with evidence for increased severity and neurotropism for HHV-6A. While HHV-6B is the predominant infant infection in USA, Europe and Japan, HHV-6A appears rare. Here HHV-6 prevalence, loads and variant genotypes, in asymptomatic compared to symptomatic infants were investigated from an African region with endemic HIV-1/AIDS. DNA was extracted from blood or sera from asymptomatic infants at 6 and 18 months age in a population-based micronutrient study, and from symptomatic infants hospitalised for febrile disease. DNA was screened by qualitative and quantitative real-time PCR, then genotyped by sequencing at variable loci, U46 (gN) and U47 (gO). HIV-1 serostatus of infants and mothers were also determined. HHV-6 DNA prevalence rose from 15% to 22% (80/371) by 18 months. At 6 months, infants born to HIV-1 positive mothers had lower HHV-6 prevalence (11%, 6/53), but higher HCMV prevalence (25%, 17/67). HHV-6 positive febrile hospitalized infants had higher HIV-1, 57% (4/7), compared to asymptomatic infants, 3% (2/74). HHV-6A was detected exclusively in 86% (48/56) of asymptomatic HHV-6 positive samples genotyped. Co-infections with both strain variants were linked with higher viral loads and found in 13% (7/56) asymptomatic infants and 43% (3/7) HIV-1 positive febrile infants. Overall, the results show HHV-6A as the predominant variant significantly associated with viremic infant-infections in this African population, distinct from other global cohorts, suggesting emergent infections elsewhere.

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