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High environmental radiation does not affect viruses

Previous studies have shown that bank voles that have been exposed to environmental radiation have immune suppression and cellular changes that might promote virus replication. However, the effect of environmental radiation on viruses in wild populations have not been studied before. Bank voles host many zoonotic viruses, such as hantaviruses that causes hemorrhagic fever in humans.


Researchers from the University of Oulu and the University of Jyväskylä studied viruses in bank voles inhabiting areas surrounding the former nuclear power plant at Chernobyl, Ukraine. Even though it has been 34 year since the Chernobyl nuclear accident, the area still has patches of high radiation levels.

Kesäniemi and colleagues ​identified four new virus species, which were able to spread to bank vole spleen and liver. Interestingly, these viruses were found also from Swedish bank voles, which indicates that the viruses are common in European bank voles.

However, researchers did not find any indication that environmental radiation would affect the viruses’ abundance or distribution. According to the results, the virus amounts, and species were similar in bank voles inhabiting the former Chernobyl nuclear accident site or control areas with normal radiation levels.

Bank voles from Chernobyl. Photo: Anton Lavrinienko

Main photo: Closed area of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Photo: Jaana Jurvansuu


Kesäniemi, J.; Lavrinienko, A.; Tukalenko, E.; Mappes, T.; Watts, P.C.; Jurvansuu, J. Infection Load and Prevalence of Novel Viruses Identified from the Bank Vole Do Not Associate with Exposure to Environmental RadioactivityViruses 202012, 44. https://doi.org/10.3390/v12010044

Last updated: 14.1.2020