Three men in Germany were killed by a squirrel virus. They caught the disease after they handled exotic squirrels. All of the victims were squirrel handlers. The deaths were reported between 2011 and 2013. More details about this case were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Two of the victims were scratched or bitten by squirrels and this made scientists consider running a gene test on one of the animals. This new form of bornavirus can be transmitted to others but it was net yet proved that they can be spread from humans to humans. It is usually found in rodent, birds, sheep and horses.
Researchers have determined that variegated squirrels could transmit this new disease to humans. They are a rare species of squirrels which live southern Mexico and Central America. Scientists cannot explain how the animals got infected with VSBV-1 (the variegated squirrel 1 bornavirus) and do not even know for sure if it come with the rodents from Central America. Moreover the animals seemed to have been healthy when they passed the squirrel virus to the handlers.
The three men died because of encephalitis, which is a swelling of the brain. This condition is usually caused by bornavirus. After they were infected with the squirrel virus the symptoms lasted for two to four months and they included difficulties when walking, weakness, fever and chills. The men were at least 60 years old or above and doctors mentioned that in the past they suffered from conditions which could have aggravated or even caused the lethal infection.
Dr. Marc Siegal from the NYU Langone Medical Center said:
“It’s likely that bornavirus, commonly found in horses and sheep and capable of causing neurological symptoms, was present in the squirrels that scratched these men, causing the neurological and behavioral symptoms.”
Since the virus was not detected in other animals or humans so experts said that the chances of contracting the virus are low.
In February the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control advised people not to get close to variegated squirrels or try to feed them.
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