Geographical Distribution of Ljungan Virus in Small Mammals in Europe
Ljungan virus (LV), which belongs to the Parechovirus genus in the Picornaviridae family, was first isolated from bank voles (Myodes glareolus) in Sweden in 1998 and proposed as a zoonotic agent. To improve knowledge of the host association and geographical distribution of LV, tissues from 1685 animals belonging to multiple rodent and insectivore species from 12 European countries were screened for LV-RNA using reverse transcriptase (RT)-PCR. In addition, we investigated how the prevalence of LV-RNA in bank voles is associated with various intrinsic and extrinsic factors. We show that LV is widespread geographically, having been detected in at least one host species in nine European countries. Twelve out of 21 species screened were LV-RNA PCR positive, including, for the first time, the red vole (Myodes rutilus) and the root or tundra vole (Alexandromys formerly Microtus oeconomus), as well as in insectivores, including the bicolored white-toothed shrew (Crocidura leucodon) and the Valais shrew (Sorex antinorii). Results indicated that bank voles are the main rodent host for this virus (overall RT-PCR prevalence: 15.2%). Linear modeling of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that could impact LV prevalence showed a concave-down relationship between body mass and LV occurrence, so that subadults had the highest LV positivity, but LV in older animals was less prevalent. Also, LV prevalence was higher in autumn and lower in spring, and the amount of precipitation recorded during the 6 months preceding the trapping date was negatively correlated with the presence of the virus. Phylogenetic analysis on the 185 base pair species-specific sequence of the 5′ untranslated region identified high genetic diversity (46.5%) between 80 haplotypes, although no geographical or host-specific patterns of diversity were detected.