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Keywords:

  • Bank voles;
  • nephropathia epidemica;
  • hantaviruses;
  • rodent-born diseases;
  • population dynamics;
  • model;
  • satellite;
  • prediction;
  • time series;
  • climate change;
  • zoonoses;
  • human disease

Summary

Wildlife-originated zoonotic diseases in general are a major contributor to emerging infectious diseases. Hantaviruses more specifically cause thousands of human disease cases annually worldwide, while understanding and predicting human hantavirus epidemics pose numerous unsolved challenges. Nephropathia epidemica (NE) is a human infection caused by Puumala virus, which is naturally carried and shed by bank voles (Myodes glareolus). The objective of this study was to develop a method that allows model-based predicting 3 months ahead of the occurrence of NE epidemics. Two data sets were utilized to develop and test the models. These data sets were concerned with NE cases in Finland and Belgium. In this study, we selected the most relevant inputs from all the available data for use in a dynamic linear regression (DLR) model. The number of NE cases in Finland were modelled using data from 1996 to 2008. The NE cases were predicted based on the time series data of average monthly air temperature (°C) and bank voles’ trapping index using a DLR model. The bank voles’ trapping index data were interpolated using a related dynamic harmonic regression model (DHR). Here, the DLR and DHR models used time-varying parameters. Both the DHR and DLR models were based on a unified state-space estimation framework. For the Belgium case, no time series of the bank voles’ population dynamics were available. Several studies, however, have suggested that the population of bank voles is related to the variation in seed production of beech and oak trees in Northern Europe. Therefore, the NE occurrence pattern in Belgium was predicted based on a DLR model by using remotely sensed phenology parameters of broad-leaved forests, together with the oak and beech seed categories and average monthly air temperature (°C) using data from 2001 to 2009. Our results suggest that even without any knowledge about hantavirus dynamics in the host population, the time variation in NE outbreaks in Finland could be predicted 3 months ahead with a 34% mean relative prediction error (MRPE). This took into account solely the population dynamics of the carrier species (bank voles). The time series analysis also revealed that climate change, as represented by the vegetation index, changes in forest phenology derived from satellite images and directly measured air temperature, may affect the mechanics of NE transmission. NE outbreaks in Belgium were predicted 3 months ahead with a 40% MRPE, based only on the climatological and vegetation data, in this case, without any knowledge of the bank vole’s population dynamics. In this research, we demonstrated that NE outbreaks can be predicted using climate and vegetation data or the bank vole’s population dynamics, by using dynamic data-based models with time-varying parameters. Such a predictive modelling approach might be used as a step towards the development of new tools for the prevention of future NE outbreaks.