Sin Nombre virus (SNV), a strain of hantavirus, causes hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) in humans, a deadly disease with high mortality rate (>50%). The primary virus host is deer mice, and greater deer mice abundance has been shown to increase the human risk of HPS. There is a great need in understanding the nature of the virus host, its temporal and spatial dynamics, and its relation to the human population with the purpose of predicting human risk of the disease.
This research studies SNV dynamics in deer mice in the Great Basin Desert of central Utah, USA using multiyear field data and integrated geospatial approaches including remote sensing, Geographic Information System (GIS), and a spatially explicit agent-based model. The goal is to advance our understanding of the important ecological and demographic factors that affect the dynamics of deer mouse population and SNV prevalence. The primary research question is how climate, habitat disturbance, and deer mouse demographics affect deer mouse population density, its movement, and SNV prevalence in the sagebrush habitat.
The results show that the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) and the enhanced vegetation index (EVI) can be good predictors of deer mouse density and the number of infected deer mice with a time lag of 1.0 to 1.3 years. This information can be very useful in predicting mouse abundance and SNV risk.
The results also showed that climate, mouse density, sex, mass, and SNV infection had significant effects on deer mouse movement. The effect of habitat disturbance on mouse movement varies according to climate conditions with positive relationship in predrought condition and negative association in postdrought condition. The heavier infected deer mice moved the most. Season and disturbance alone had no significant effects.
The spatial agent-based model (SABM) simulation results show that prevalence was negatively related to the disturbance levels and the sensitivity analysis showed that population density was one of the most important parameters affecting the SNV dynamics. The results also indicated that habitat disturbance could increase hantavirus transmission likely by increasing the movement and consequently contact rates. However, the model suggested that habitat disturbance had a much stronger effect on prevalence by decreasing population density than by increasing mice movement. Therefore, overall habitat disturbance reduces SNV prevalence.