Epidemiology and Infection

Cowpox: reservoir hosts and geographic range

J. CHANTREY a1, H. MEYER a2, D. BAXBY a1, M. BEGON a1, K. J. BOWN a1, S. M. HAZEL a1, T. JONES a1, W. I. MONTGOMERY a3 and M. BENNETT a1c1
a1 Centre for Comparative Infectious Diseases, University of Liverpool
a2 Institute of Microbiology, Federal Armed Forces Medical Academy, Munich
a3 School of Biology and Biochemistry, The Queen's University of Belfast


It is generally accepted that the reservoir hosts of cowpox virus are wild rodents, although direct evidence for this is lacking for much of the virus's geographic range. Here, through a combination of serology and PCR, we demonstrate conclusively that the main hosts in Great Britain are bank voles, wood mice and short-tailed field voles. However, we also suggest that wood mice may not be able to maintain infection alone, explaining the absence of cowpox from Ireland where voles are generally not found. Infection in wild rodents varies seasonally, and this variation probably underlies the marked seasonal incidence of infection in accidental hosts such as humans and domestic cats.

(Accepted January 14 1999)

c1 Author for correspondence: Department of Veterinary Pathology, The University of Liverpool, Leahurst, Chester High Road, Neston, Wirral L64 7TE, UK.