Infections with hantaviruses in the natural host rodent may result in persistent, asymptomatic infections involving shedding of virus into the environment. Laboratory studies have partially characterized the acute and persistent infection by Sin Nombre virus (SNV) in its natural host, the deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus). However, these studies have posed questions that may best be addressed using longitudinal studies involving sequential sampling of individual wild-caught, naturally infected mice. Using enzyme immunoassay and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis of monthly blood samples, we followed the infection status of deer mice in a mark-recapture study in Montana for 2 yr. Only six of 907 samples without IgG antibody to SNV contained detectable SNV RNA, suggesting that there is a very brief period of viremia before the host develops detectable antibody. The simultaneous presence of both antibody and viral RNA in blood was detected in consecutive monthly samples for as long as 3 mo. However, chronic infection was typified by alternating characteristics of PCR positivity and PCR negativity. Two possible interpretations of these results are that 1) viral RNA may be consistently present in the blood of chronically infected deer mouse, but that viral RNA is near the limits of PCR detectability or 2) SNV RNA sporadically appears in blood as a consequence of unknown physiological events. The occurrence of seasonal patterns in the proportion of samples that contains antibody and that also contained SNV RNA demonstrated a temporal association between recent infection (antibody acquisition) and presence of viral RNA in blood.
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Vol. 41 • No. 3