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Nephropathia epidemica and Puumala virus occurrence in relation to bank vole (Clethrionomys glareolus) dynamics and environmental factors in northern Sweden

Nephropathia epidemica and Puumala virus occurrence in relation to bank vole (Clethrionomys glareolus) dynamics and environmental factors in northern Sweden

Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae Silvestria (289): 33 pp. + Appendices I-IV

The objectives of the thesis were to investigate the spatio-temporal patterns of nephropathia epidemica (NE) in humans and Puumala virus (PUU) occurrence in relation to bank vole (Clethrionomys glareolus) dynamics and environmental factors in a region of high incidence of NE in northern Sweden. Nephropathia epidemica is a mild form of hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome, and in northern Sweden the most prevailing serious febrile viral infection, second to influenza. All serologically confirmed NE cases during 1991-2001 in the four northernmost counties (n = 2,468) were used to establish spatio-temporal patterns of the occurrence of the human disease. Within the study region, the bank voles show marked population fluctuations with 3-4 yr cycles and the incidence of NE has a temporal component strongly correlated to annual numbers of bank voles in autumn. People living in rural dwellings near coastal areas were abundant among notified cases and middle-aged males were over-represented. The patients were often infected in autumn when engaged in activities such as handling of fire wood, gardening or hay-handling near man-made rodent refugia or cleaning/redecorating within one. A proportion of these patients, confident about site of PUU exposure, were used to establish field sites in two separate studies. Firstly a five year study (1995-1999) at six sites spanning a bank vole population cycle, and secondly a spatially extensive study at 32 sites was conducted in autumn 1998. Densities, fluctuations and demography of vole populations differ between sites of known occurrence of NE were compared to random forest sites. Five years of repeated biannual sampling revealed that case sites harbored more bank voles than random forest sites, in particular during population peaks. For the individual bank voles, the probability of PUU infection was significantly higher in population peak year, increased with age and was higher for males than for females. In the spatially extended study, it was found that in particular environmental characteristics associated with old-growth moist forests (i.e. Alectoria spp., Picea abies, fallen wood and Vaccinium myrtillus) were associated with high bank vole numbers and numbers of PUU infected bank voles. This implies that success in circulation and persistence of PUU within local bank vole populations is strongly influenced by the local environments. In future modeling of PUU transmission, influence of bank vole demography and environmental factors should be useful on establishing risk assessments and identifying areas of particular risk of PUU exposure.

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