The genetic and symptom diversity of six virus isolates causing cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) in the endemic (Kenya, Mozambique, and Tanzania) and the recently affected epidemic areas (Uganda) of eastern Africa was studied. Five cassava varieties; Albert, Colombian, Ebwanateraka, TMS60444 (all susceptible) and Kiroba (tolerant) were graft inoculated with each isolate. Based on a number of parameters including the severity of leaf and root symptoms, and the extent of virus transmission by grafting, the viruses were classified as either severe or relatively mild. These results were further confirmed by the mechanical inoculation of 13 herbaceous hosts in which the virulent isolates caused plant death in Nicotiana clevelandii and N. benthamiana whereas the milder isolates did not. Phylogenetic analysis of complete coat protein gene sequences of these isolates together with sequences obtained from 14 other field-collected samples from Kenya and Zanzibar, and reference sequences grouped them into two distinct clusters, representing the two species of cassava brown streak viruses. Put together, these results did not suggest the association of a hypervirulent form of the virus with the current CBSD epidemic in Uganda. Identification of the severe and milder isolates, however, has further implications for disease management and quarantine requirements.