It is generally accepted that the reservoir hosts of cowpox virus are wild rodents, although direct evidence for this is lacking for much of the virus's geographic range. Here, through a combination of serology and PCR, we demonstrate conclusively that the main hosts in Great Britain are bank voles, wood mice and short-tailed field voles. However, we also suggest that wood mice may not be able to maintain infection alone, explaining the absence of cowpox from Ireland where voles are generally not found. Infection in wild rodents varies seasonally, and this variation probably underlies the marked seasonal incidence of infection in accidental hosts such as humans and domestic cats.
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