Murid gammaherpesvirus 4 (MuHV-4) is widely used as a small animal model for understanding gammaherpesvirus infections in man. However, there have been no epidemiological studies of the virus in wild populations of small mammals. As MuHV-4 both infects cells associated with the respiratory and immune systems and attempts to evade immune control via various molecular mechanisms, infection may reduce immunocompetence with potentially serious fitness consequences for individuals. Here we report a longitudinal study of antibody to MuHV-4 in a mixed assemblage of bank voles (Clethrionomys glareolus) and wood mice (Apodemus sylvaticus) in the UK. The study was conducted between April 2001 and March 2004. Seroprevalence was higher in wood mice than bank voles, supporting earlier work that suggested wood mice were the major host even though the virus was originally isolated from a bank vole. Analyses of both the probability of having antibodies and the probability of initial seroconversion indicated no clear seasonal pattern or relationship with host density. Instead, infection risk was most closely associated with individual characteristics, with heavier males having the highest risk. This may reflect individual variation in susceptibility, potentially related to variability in the ability to mount an effective immune response.
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Vol. 43 • No. 1