Thursday, 10 August 2017

Novel poxvirus threatens juvenile squirrels

August 9, 2017

A previously unknown poxvirus causes severe disease in European red squirrels from Germany. Molecular genetic investigations revealed a new virus species in the family of Poxviridae. Results of the study are published in the scientific journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

For several years, juvenile red squirrels have been found in the greater Berlin metropolitan area with severe inflammatory lesions of hands, feet and ears without evidence of a cause. "The little squirrels cannot keep hold of anything because their tiny fingers are sticking together. The wounds are so painful that some animals die in shock," says Tanya Lenn from the Red Squirrel Sanctuary Berlin/Brandenburg, who saw many red squirrels recover after intensive care. "Despite all efforts, if they are found too late, not all animals will make it."

Some of the deceased red squirrels were submitted to the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) for pathological investigations. Wildlife pathologist Gudrun Wibbelt detected profound inflammatory skin infections in all animals complicated by secondary colonization of bacteria and yeasts. "But the most important finding in the diseased skin were oval inclusion bodies within the skin cells visible only by microscopical examination," explains Wibbelt. With the aid of electron microscopy, viral particles could be demonstrated in these inclusions in all investigated squirrels. Wibbelt reports that "shape and size of these viruses are similar to cowpox virus."

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