The transmission of pathogens to susceptible hosts is dependent on the vector population dynamics. In Europe, bank voles (Myodes glareolus) carry Puumala hantavirus, which causes nephropathia epidemica (NE) in humans. Fluctuations in bank vole populations and epidemics in humans are correlated but the main factors influencing this relationship remain unclear. In Belgium, more NE cases are reported in spring than in autumn. There is also a higher incidence of human infections during years of large vole populations. This study aimed to better understand the link between virus prevalence in the vector, vole demography, habitat quality, and human infections. Three rodent populations in different habitats bordering Brussels city, Belgium, were studied for two years. The seroprevalence in voles was influenced first by season (higher in spring), then by vole density, vole weight (a proxy for age), and capture site but not by year or sex. Moreover, voles with large maximal distance between two captures had a high probability for Puumala seropositivity. Additionally, the local vole density showed similar temporal variations as the number of NE cases in Belgium. These results showed that, while season was the main factor influencing vole seroprevalence, it was not sufficient to explain human risks. Indeed, vole density and weight, as well as the local habitat, were essential to understanding the interactions in these host-pathogen dynamics. This can, in turn, be of importance for assessing the human risks.
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Vol. 37 • No. 2