Geographical Distribution and Genetic Diversity of Bank Vole Hepaciviruses in Europe
The development of new diagnostic methods resulted in the discovery of novel hepaciviruses in wild populations of the bank vole (Myodes glareolus, syn. Clethrionomys glareolus). The naturally infected voles demonstrate signs of hepatitis similar to those induced by hepatitis C virus (HCV) in humans. The aim of the present research was to investigate the geographical distribution of bank vole-associated hepaciviruses (BvHVs) and their genetic diversity in Europe. Real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) screening revealed BvHV RNA in 442 out of 1838 (24.0%) bank voles from nine European countries and in one of seven northern red-backed voles (Myodes rutilus, syn. Clethrionomys rutilus). BvHV RNA was not found in any other small mammal species (n = 23) tested here. Phylogenetic and isolation-by-distance analyses confirmed the occurrence of both BvHV species (Hepacivirus F and Hepacivirus J) and their sympatric occurrence at several trapping sites in two countries. The broad geographical distribution of BvHVs across Europe was associated with their presence in bank voles of different evolutionary lineages. The extensive geographical distribution and high levels of genetic diversity of BvHVs, as well as the high population fluctuations of bank voles and occasional commensalism in some parts of Europe warrant future studies on the zoonotic potential of BvHVs.