You might need to keep a distance from your backyard squirrel. Three German breeders have died after getting infected with a new strain of virus from their squirrels.The men died two to four months after developing encephalitis – inflammation of the brain. Variegated squirrels, are an exotic breed native to southern Mexico and Central America – where it is even kept as a pet. The virus was transferred from the squirrels after being bitten and scratched by the animal.
After the bites, the three squirrel breeders developed a deadly encephalitis between 2011 and 2013 that manifests as fever, chills, weakness, confusion and difficulty walking.
A study found a previously unknown bornavirus was found in a squirrel and in brain samples from the three men, suggesting it had spread from the animal. However, tests of the usual causes of the condition did not reveal how they had caught it and so a more detailed test was taken.
A genetic test of one of the squirrels owned by the breeders identified a new type of bornavirus (a kind of virus often found in horses and sheep), which researchers called VSBV-1.
A further study found this virus in the brain tissue in all three men. On further investigation, antibodies produced against the virus were also collected in the blood and spinal fluid of one of the men – highlighting the target virus which led to the men’s deaths.