Puumala hantavirus (PUUV) is apparently transmitted to humans by inhalation of aerosolized secretions of carrier rodents (bank voles). The means of transmission and the associated risk factors are poorly defined. An epidemiological study during the peak of an epidemic season in Finland was conducted based on 282 acute clinical PUUV infections and 204 controls without PUUV infection or immunity. The main risk factors adjusted by age, sex and living environment were cigarette smoking [odds ratio (OR) 3·6, 95% confidence interval (CI) 2·1–5·9, P<0·0001] and buildings with holes allowing rodents to enter (OR 3·3, 95% CI 2·0–5·6); these results were similar in two subsets. Further, use of rodent traps (OR3·5, 95% CI 2·2–5·7) and handling firewood (OR 2·7, 95% CI 1·6–4·4) were associated with a risk. The risk attributed to smoking also remained high using simulated population controls with average smoking habits. The results suggest that hantavirus transmission occurs by inhalation mainly indoors and is dependent on the condition of the respiratory tract.
(Accepted August 12 2009)
(Online publication September 28 2009)