Genetic diversity and molecular epidemiology of hantaviruses
Hantaviruses are zoonotic pathogens responsible for hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS) and hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) after human transmission. Pathogenic hantaviruses primarily have rodents as their reservoir, with humans acting as an accidental dead-end host. The actual hantavirus host range appears to be much broader with hantaviruses detected in shrews, moles, bats, reptiles, and fish. In Western, Northern, and Central Europe, Puumala virus, that has the bank vole as their natural host, is the most prominent causative agent of HFRS. At the moment, no effective antivirals and WHO-prequalified vaccines are available, making identification of local outbreaks and prevention of subsequent infections the most effective response. As zoonotic agents, hantaviruses are strongly influenced by changes in ecological and environmental factors and much effort is invested in identifying these drivers, what could aid in estimating the effective infection risk. Characterization of short-term evolution can help uncover recent virus dynamics and their influencing factors while investigating long-term evolution could provide insights into the evolutionary mechanisms shaping the relationship between hantaviruses and their hosts. This thesis attempts to characterize PUUV dynamics and factors influencing the human infection risk in Belgium. In addition, the genetic diversity and evolutionary history of non-rodent hantaviruses in Belgium are described.