Puumala (PUU) hantavirus is the aetiological agent of nephropathia epidemica (NE), a mild form of haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome, which occurs in Fennoscandia, central Europe and Russia. In Norway, NE-like disease has been reported since 1946 and about 50 cases are diagnosed annually; however, the causative agent has not been characterized. In this study, a virus originating from bank voles (Clethrionomys glareolus) trapped near the town of Eidsvoll (Akershus county) was isolated and passaged in laboratory-bred bank voles. The bank vole strain was identified as a PUU virus by serological typing and by sequence analysis of the S and M gene segments. For comparison, complete or partial S sequences were determined for wild-type PUU strains from five locations in Sweden, two inhabited by the southern variant of bank vole present in Fennoscandia, and three by the northern variant. Phylogenetic analysis showed that Norwegian PUU strains are clustered together with Swedish strains from the first group forming a well-supported sublineage within the PUU genotype, distinct from other sublineages from northern Sweden, Finland, Russia and France. The results are consistent with the view of a complex evolutionary history of PUU strains in post-glacial Fennoscandia. Analyses of the current collection of nucleotide sequences suggest that PUU is the most variable genotype of the known hantaviruses.


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