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Hantavirus disease (nephropathia epidemica) in Belgium: effects of tree seed production and climate

  • K. TERSAGO (a1), R. VERHAGEN (a1), A. SERVAIS (a2), P. HEYMAN (a3), G. DUCOFFRE (a4) and H. LEIRS (a1) (a5)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 July 2008

Recently, human cases of nephropathia epidemica (NE) due to Puumala virus infection in Europe have increased. Following the hypothesis that high reservoir host abundance induces higher transmission rates to humans, explanations for this altered epidemiology must be sought in factors that cause bank vole (Myodes glareolus) abundance peaks. In Western Europe, these abundance peaks are often related to high tree seed production, which is supposedly triggered by specific weather conditions. We evaluated the relationship between tree seed production, climate and NE incidence in Belgium and show that NE epidemics are indeed preceded by abundant tree seed production. Moreover, a direct link between climate and NE incidence is found. High summer and autumn temperatures, 2 years and 1 year respectively before NE occurrence, relate to high NE incidence. This enables early forecasting of NE outbreaks. Since future climate change scenarios predict higher temperatures in Europe, we should regard Puumala virus as an increasing health threat.

Corresponding author
*Author for correspondence: K. Tersago, University of Antwerp, Department of Biology, Evolutionary Ecology Group, Groenenborgerlaan 171, 2020 Antwerp, Belgium. (Email:
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