Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) followed by sequence and phylogenetic analyses were used to study specimens from nine Finnish nephropathia epidemica (NE) patients admitted to hospital during the epidemic in winter 1996-1997. Blood samples from six patients were found to be positive for the partial M- and/or S-segment sequences of Puumala hantavirus (PUUV). Analyses of these sequences (nt 2168-2610 for the M segment, and nt 819-1082 for the S segment) revealed six distinct PUUV strains showing highest similarity to previously described PUUV strains from Finland: 90-95% for the S segment, and 90-99% for the M segment. Accordingly, on the phylogenetic trees calculated for both viral segments, all six human strains were placed within the Finnish genetic lineage of PUUV. Attempts were made to trace five RT-PCR-positive patients to local bank voles (Clethrionomys glareolus) infected with wild-type PUUV, and for two patients a comparative analysis of human- and rodent-originated viral sequences was undertaken. Whereas in the first case the differences between the sequences were substantial (5. 7% for the S segment, and 10.8%, for the M segment), in the other case the M segment sequence recovered from the clinical specimen was 100% identical to three sequences recovered from rodent lungs, and the S sequences differed by one silent substitution only. This is the first finding of virtually identical PUUV sequences in an NE patient and a natural rodent host from the site of infection.