Why Hantavirus Prevalence Does Not Always Increase With Host Density : Modeling the Role of Host Spatial Behavior and Maternal Antibodies

Reijniers, Jonas; Tersago, Katrien; Borremans, Benny; Hartemink, Nienke; Voutilainen, Liina; Henttonen, Heikki; Leirs, Herwig


For wildlife diseases, one often relies on host density to predict host infection prevalence and the subsequent force of infection to humans in the case of zoonoses. Indeed, if transmission is mainly indirect, i.e., by way of the environment, the force of infection is expected to increase with host density, yet the laborious field data supporting this theoretical claim are often absent. Hantaviruses are among those zoonoses that have been studied extensively over the past decades, as they pose a significant threat to humans. In Europe, the most widespread hantavirus is the Puumala virus (PUUV), which is carried by the bank vole and causes nephropathia epidemica (NE) in humans. Extensive field campaigns have been carried out in Central Finland to shed light on this supposed relationship between bank vole density and PUUV prevalence and to identify other drivers for the infection dynamics. This resulted in the surprising observation that the relationship between bank vole density and PUUV prevalence is not purely monotonic on an annual basis, contrary to what previous models predicted: a higher vole density does not necessary result in a higher infection prevalence, nor in an increased number of humans reported having NE. Here, we advance a novel individual-based spatially-explicit model which takes into account the immunity provided by maternal antibodies and which simulates the spatial behavior of the host, both possible causes for this discrepancy that were not accounted for in previous models. We show that the reduced prevalence in peak years can be attributed to transient immunity, and that the density-dependent spatial vole behavior, i.e., the fact that home ranges are smaller in high density years, plays only a minor role. The applicability of the model is not limited to the study and prediction of PUUV (and NE) occurrence in Europe, as it could be easily adapted to model other rodent-borne diseases, either with indirect or direct transmission.