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Breeding success of barn owls reflects risk of hantavirus infection
  1. P. Heyman, chemist, ir.1,
  2. C. Cochez, biologist1,
  3. L. Simons, fieldworker1,
  4. L. Smets, head of barn owl workgroup2 and
  5. C. Saegerman, PhD, prof3
  1. 1Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics, Queen Astrid Military Hospital,Brussels 1120, Belgium
  2. 2Kerkuilwerkgroep Vlaanderen, Vogelbescherming Vlaanderen, Sint Niklaas 9100, Belgium
  3. 3Department of Infectious and Parasitic Diseases, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Liege, Liege B-4000, Belgium;
  1. E-mail for correspondence: paul.heyman{at}mil.be

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"Can grave and formal pass for wise, When Men the solemn Owl despise?"(Benjamin Franklin)

Hantaviruses (genus Hantavirus, family Bunyaviridae) are carried worldwide by rodents, bats and insectivores. In Europe, haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS) may be caused by infection with Dobrava virus (DOBV), carried by Apodemus flavicollis (yellow-necked mouse). A milder form of HFRS, nephropathia epidemica, may be caused by infection with Puumala virus (PUUV), carried by Myodes glareolus (bank vole). Hundreds of DOBV-caused infections, and thousands of PUUV-caused infections occur in Europe each year. In Belgium, only PUUV infections occur (Heyman and others 2009). We had already identified domestic dogs and cats as sentinels for hantavirus occurrence (Dobly and others 2010), but it is clear that in the complicated system that nature is, many factors may give additional indications for the risk of acquiring hantavirus infection. Current knowledge indicated that all non-rodent hosts, that is, humans, domestic and wild animals, are dead-end hosts for hantavirus infections. Only humans show clinical illness due to hantavirus infection, meaning that, to the best of our knowledge, neither the rodent reservoirs nor the animal hosts show signs of illness.

Despite this constant threat, hantavirus infections in humans show cyclic variations (Table 1 and Fig 1) and many biotic and abiotic parameters influence the occurrence of these infections over time. The likeness of a virus–human encounter is correlated to the amount of virus in the environment and, thus, to …

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