Hantaviruses are RNA viruses that commonly have rodent vector. Humans are infected as a spill over host. Infection with European hantaviruses is usually milder than with those present in the Americas. Nonetheless, about 0.5% of human cases go on to develop severe (sometimes fatal disease).
The severe form of the disease is known as haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (or nephropathica epidemica) and is more likely to develop in young men with a distinct age and sex related risk of “cytokine storm” and severe disease.
Different hantaviruses are associated with different species of rodent and the risk for people is higher in occupations like foresters and agricultural workers.
Our research and its impact
Until recently, the UK was thought to only have the Seoul hantavirus carried by brown rats. Our work, along with that of others, has demonstrated that we have a second hantavirus, named tatenale virus, that is carried by field voles (Microtus agrestis). We do not yet know if this virus also infects humans but given its genetic relationship to other European hantaviruses (such as Puumula virus carried by bank voles in other parts of Europe) it is likely to and this is an area of future research.
We’ve also conducted work on the genetics and immune responses of humans to Puumula virus with colleagues at the Federal University of Kazan, Republic of Tatarstan (Russian federation) that has provided new insight into why only some people develop severe disease.