Distribution of puumala virus in Sweden
Abstract: Puumala virus, belonging to the genus hantavirus, is the causative agent of nephropathia epidemica (NE), a relatively mild form of hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome. Puumala virus occurs endemically in Central and Northern Europe and Western Russia. In Sweden, NE is reported from the northern and central parts but virtually not at all from the southern part of the country. The bank vole (Clethrionomys glareolus) is the main reservoir of Puumala virus and humans are infected by inhalation of aerosolized animal secreta. In northern Sweden, the density of the bank vole population varies cyclically in intervals of 3-4 years and the incidence of NE shows a covariation.The prevalence of serum antibodies to hantaviruses in northern Sweden was studied in a stratified and randomly selected adult population sample comprising 1538 subjects. As expected, the prevalence increased with age. There was no difference between men and women, which was unexpected based on a male:female ratio of > 2:1 in clinical reports. By use of an immunofiuorescent assay, a seroprevalence of 5.4% and by a newly developed enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) with recombinant Puumala virus nucleocapsid protein as antigen, a prevalence of 8.9% was recorded. This is about or more than ten times higher than what would be calculated from clinical reports.By use of the ELISA, an occupational risk of acquisition of Puumala virus infection was demonstrated. Serum samples from 910 farmers and 663 referent subjects living in various rural parts of Sweden were tested. Among farmers from the Puumala virus-endemic northern and central parts of the country, the seroprevalence (12.9%) was higher (p=0.01) than in referents (6.8%). In the southern part of Sweden, only 2/459 persons had antibodies. Only a limited number of children with NE had been previously reported. In a separate study, 32 children with Puumala virus infection were identified and the clinical picture of NE in children was found to be similar to that of adult cases.Variations in the prevalence of Puumala virus in the bank vole population within an endemic region are not well known. Here, a higher mean rodent density and a higher prevalence of Puumala virus-specific serum antibodies were recorded in the vicinity of households afflicted with NE than in rural control areas. The data indicated that the risk of exposure locally within an endemic region may vary widely and tentatively suggested that a threshold density of bank voles might be necessary to achieve before effective spread of Puumala virus within the rodent population may occur.There is no firm evidence of the occurrence of Puumala virus among wild living animals other than rodents. A study of Swedish moose, an animal which is ecologically well characterized, was performed. Convincing evidence of past Puumala virus infection was found in 5/260 moose originating from Puumala virus-endemic areas but in none of 167 animals from nonendemic areas. Based on the low seroprevalence recorded, moose seemed to serve as endstage hosts rather than being active parts of the enzootic circle of transmission.In conclusion, the present investigations confirmed that the exposure to Puumala virus is geographically well restricted in Sweden. Seroprevalence studies indicated that only a minor proportion of individuals infected with Puumala virus are clinically reported, with a bias in favour of men. NE was confirmed to occur in children, with a clinical picture similar to that of adults. An occupational risk was defined for acquisition of Puumala virus infection. Studies in rodents suggested that there may be wide local variations within a limited area in the risk of exposure to Puumala virus. The studies validated the usefulness of a newly developed ELISA based on recombinant nucleocapsid peptides of hantaviruses and finally, methodological progress was reached when Puumala virus was, for the first time, successfully isolated from a Scandinavian patient.
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