Between the years 2011 and 2013, a deadly squirrel virus caused three deaths in Germany that has still left researchers with unanswered questions. The animals were previously transferred from Central America to Europe and received a clean medical bill of health upon arrival.
However, three men working for the same squirrel breeding institution and who also knew themselves socially, were reported to have died from a new bornavirus contracted while working with the animals. It hasn’t been previously known for the variegated, exotic squirrels to pass on the apparently fatal infection to humans.
The men were all have died after a case of encephalitis, a swelling of the brain, a condition commonly known to be caused by a bornavirus. One of the men was bitten and the other two were scratched while handling the animals. Researchers have called the newly discovered, squirrel-carried virus VSBV-1.
The symptoms lasted for two to four months after infection, which included chills, fever, weakness and difficulty walking. Doctors have also made sure to mention that the three men were of sixty years old or above, and previously suffered from conditions that could have aggravated or even instigated the lethal viral infection.
After examination of the exotic squirrels, all presented to be healthy, but clear traces of the VSBV-1 virus were found, which have previously gone unnoticed. That raises the question on whether the rodents were infected in their native home of Central America before transportation or they become carriers in Europe.
However, while all three men presented both cases of brain inflammation and the VSBV-1 virus, medical health workers have not distinctively placed the blame on the squirrel-transmitted disease. The coincidence, however, will lead to further research, according to a spokesman in charge of viral diagnostics.
Bonaviruses are commonly found in sheep, birds or horses, and it has been a long-standing question on whether they can be transmitted to humans or not. It seems that this variegated species of squirrel does hold that ability after all.
Health experts have claimed that that there should be no reason for rash precautions just yet. The risk of infection is reportedly very low and it cannot further spread to common species of squirrels found everywhere in the world. No other human or animal has been previously discovered with the same infection either.
The variegated, exotic squirrels are found in Central America, southern Mexico and none in the wilds of North America. Still, until further results are brought to light, the population is asked not to hold too close of a contact with the rodents, neither feeding nor petting, and not to attempt a close approach even if the squirrel is dead.
Image source: news.health.com