Squirrels are cute and energetic, and they're certainly fun to watch as they scamper about the yard or the forest. However, the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention is advising the public to stay away from them for a while. The reason: a new squirrel virus.
A new strain of bornavirus has just been found in 3 Germans who breed the animals, specifically variegated squirrels that are common in Central America. All of them had died few short months after they had been diagnosed with encephalitis or inflammation of the brain. During the course of their illness, they developed high fever, chills, and weakness. As the brain tissue continued to be inflamed while being attacked by the virus, they eventually worsened, becoming more disoriented or confused, and losing their motor functions such as walking.
The bornavirus is certainly not a new type of virus as it's been found in other animals such as sheep and horses. It can also be detected in rodents and birds. However, there are two key differences between viral infections before and recently reported one.
First, this is the first known case of animal-to-human transmission for the virus, which means before only animals become carriers and are infected of it. Second, the virus has therefore evolved, eventually becoming an altogether different or new strain, which is now called VSVB-1.
The doctors were able to pinpoint the virus as the cause of death after they tested the samples of brain and spinal fluid of the dead Germans. They also performed a similar test on the bred squirrels. All 3 of them contained the virus while 1 had already started to develop antibodies. The same virus was also discovered in the tested squirrels.
Although the possibility of transmission after this case is low, considering there are no more new reports, it still pays to be forewarned and extra cautious.