New Squirrel Virus Suspected in 3 Human Deaths

By Ashwin Subramania - 10 Jul '15 10:25AM

The mysterious deaths of three squirrel breeders in Germany prompted the researchers at the Friedrich-Loeffler Institute to launch an investigation.

The scientists now believe their deaths were likely caused by a new bornavirus that was transmitted from squirrels to humans that eventually led to fatal bouts of encephalitis.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has termed the discovery as an 'emerging threat.'

"This cluster of acute fatal encephalitis in three squirrel breeders possibly related to an infection with a newly identified bornavirus is an unusual event," the ECDC explained.

"The role of new bornavirus in the aetiology of these cases, the identification of natural hosts, reservoirs, and transmission route require additional investigations."

The findings of investigation revealed that all three squirrel breeders where in their 60's and 70's and met up regulalrly.

Between 2011 and 2013, the three men died of the mutated virus. Once they were hospitalized for encephalitis, they were treated for symptoms that included fever, weakness, chills, delayed symptoms of confusion and eventual loss of motor function.

The patients then slipped into coma and died between 2 to 4 months after showing initial symptoms.

"Pending the completion of the cluster investigation, feeding or direct contact with living or dead variegated squirrels should be avoided as a precautionary measure," the ECDC added.

"Further investigations are ongoing to characterize these cases. Testing cases of human encephalitis for this newly identified bornavirus, especially in areas where the presence of bornavirus is documented in animals, can contribute to a better understanding of the risk of bornavirus infection in humans."

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