The yellow fever virus (YFV) epidemic that began in Dec 2016 in Brazil is the largest in decades. The recent discovery of YFV in Brazilian Aedes sp. vectors highlights the urgent need to monitor the risk of re-establishment of domestic YFV transmission in the Americas. We use a suite of epidemiological, spatial and genomic approaches to characterize YFV transmission. We show that the age- and sex-distribution of human cases in Brazil is characteristic of sylvatic transmission. Analysis of YFV cases combined with genomes generated locally using a new protocol reveals an early phase of sylvatic YFV transmission restricted to Minas Gerais, followed in late 2016 by a rise in viral spillover to humans, and the southwards spatial expansion of the epidemic towards previously YFV-free areas. Our results establish a framework for monitoring YFV transmission in real-time, contributing to the global strategy of eliminating future yellow fever epidemics.

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