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Environmental conditions and Puumala virus transmission in Belgium

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Author(s): Linard Catherine | Tersago Katrien | Leirs Herwig | Lambin Eric

Journal: International Journal of Health Geographics
ISSN 1476-072X

Volume: 6;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 55;
Date: 2007;
Original page

ABSTRACT
Abstract Background Non-vector-borne zoonoses such as Puumala hantavirus (PUUV) can be transmitted directly, by physical contact between infected and susceptible hosts, or indirectly, with the environment as an intermediate. The objective of this study is to better understand the causal link between environmental features and PUUV prevalence in bank vole population in Belgium, and hence with transmission risk to humans. Our hypothesis was that environmental conditions controlling the direct and indirect transmission paths differ, such that the risk of transmission to humans is not only determined by host abundance. We explored the relationship between, on one hand, environmental variables and, on the other hand, host abundance, PUUV prevalence in the host, and human cases of nephropathia epidemica (NE). Statistical analyses were carried out on 17 field sites situated in Belgian broadleaf forests. Results Linear regressions showed that landscape attributes, particularly landscape configuration, influence the abundance of hosts in broadleaf forests. Based on logistic regressions, we show that PUUV prevalence among bank voles is more linked to variables favouring the survival of the virus in the environment, and thus the indirect transmission: low winter temperatures are strongly linked to prevalence among bank voles, and high soil moisture is linked to the number of NE cases among humans. The transmission risk to humans therefore depends on the efficiency of the indirect transmission path. Human risk behaviours, such as the propensity for people to go in forest areas that best support the virus, also influence the number of human cases. Conclusion The transmission risk to humans of non-vector-borne zoonoses such as PUUV depends on a combination of various environmental factors. To understand the complex causal pathways between the environment and disease risk, one should distinguish between environmental factors related to the abundance of hosts such as land-surface attributes, landscape configuration, and climate – i.e., host ecology, – and environmental factors related to PUUV prevalence, mainly winter temperatures and soil moisture – i.e., virus ecology. Beyond a threshold abundance of hosts, environmental factors favouring the indirect transmission path (soil and climate) can better predict the number of NE cases among humans than factors influencing the abundance of hosts.

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