Focusing on transmission of Sin Nombre Virus

Development and Characterization of a Sin Nombre Virus Transmission Model in Peromyscus maniculatus. Warner BM*, Stein DR*, Griffin BD*, Tierney K*, Leung A*, Sloan A*, Kobasa D*, Poliquin G*, Kobinger GP, Safronetz D*. Viruses 2019 Feb 21;11(2). pii:E183 doi:

This science story highlights National Microbiology Laboratory work on the development of a reliable experimental transmission model for Sin Nombre virus (SNV) in deer mice. Understanding how infectious viruses are transmitted between animals and/or animals and humans is key to inform future studies, establish measures to prevent their spread and understand possible triggers for outbreaks.

What was known about this area prior to your work, and why was the research done?

Sin Nombre virus (SNV) is the main cause of hantavirus cardiopulmonary syndrome, a severe respiratory disease with a fatality rate of 35-40%. Very little was known about how SNV, which is carried by deer mice, is transmitted from infected to non-infected mice. It has been hypothesized that deer mice spread the virus to other mice through direct contact such as biting or grooming. This is in contrast to how the virus is presumed to be transmitted to humans, which is through exposure to contaminated urine, feces, or saliva. There is also evidence that other related viruses can be transmitted between their rodent hosts in this indirect manner. This study was done to determine what the main mechanism(s) of virus transmission is between deer mice and to then develop a suitable transmission model for further experiments.

What are your most significant findings from this work?

Through this study it was found that direct contact between deer mice is likely the main driver of SNV transmission. No deer mice exposed to contaminated caging became infected with the virus. Further, this study enabled the first reliable development and use of a transmission model to test two different hypotheses regarding what might be increasing viral replication and shedding in infected deer mice. Additionally, it was found that there are no differences in the level of virus or in the transmission rate between male and female deer mice, something that was of interest and has been hypothesized previously.

What are the implications or impact of the research?

This newly described transmission model for SNV will allow for further examination of what influences the differences seen in seasonal incidence of infection and transmission in deer mice. With factors such as climate change significantly altering the habitat of deer mice, this could have important implications for recognizing what might lead to potential transmission of SNV to humans. This research also enabled the development of testing methods to inhibit SNV transmission within the deer mouse population, with the goal of preventing spillover into humans.

Additional References of Significance:

  • Botten J, Mirowsky K, Ye C, Gottlieb K, Saavedra M, Ponce L, Hjelle B. 2002. Shedding and intracage transmission of Sin Nombre hantavirus in the deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) model. J Virol 2002 Aug;76(15):7587-94.
  • Drebot M*, Jones S, Grolla A*, Safronetz D*, Strong J*, Kobinger G, Lindsay R*. (2015). Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in Canada: An overview of clinical features, diagnostics, epidemiology and prevention. Can Commun Dis Rep 2015 Jun 4;41(6):124-31.

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