Three researchers from Germany died after they were infected with a rare virus while breeding squirrels. According to medical reports, the men died in 2 to 4 months after developing encephalitis, which causes inflammation in the brain. Medical experts conducted a study to determine the exact cause of death of the men and found that the squirrels were carrying a rare virus called bornavirus. Further analysis revealed that squirrels were not known to carry this type of virus before, but after taking brain samples of the men, the doctors concluded that the bornavirus spread from the animals.
According to the researchers involved in the case, at least two of the men who died had been bitten or scratched by the squirrels while trying to breed them. The animals belonged to a species of squirrels called variegated squirrels, a rare, exotic species that lives in southern Mexico and Central America. This breed of squirrels is sometimes kept as house pets.
Researchers said that the three men developed encephalitis between 2011 and 2013. Symptoms of this very serious disease include fever, chills, weakness, confusion. At first, the doctors could not determine how the men contracted encephalitis, but after more detailed analysis they discovered the cause of the disease.
The scientists did a genetic test of one of the squirrels that were kept for breeding and found that the animal carried a rare virus called bornavirus. This type of virus is usually found in animals like horses and sheep. The experts called the virus VSBV-1.
The researchers conducted an even more complex analysis and found that the brain of the three men who died was infected with this virus. The scientists found antibodies to the virus in the men’s spinal fluid and blood stream, which indicated that the men had died after contracting the virus from the squirrels.
Officials from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control made a public announcement in which they warned people not to get close or feed the squirrels because the animals were a potential health risk. The health officials released the warning after the three men died and scientist were trying to figure out the exact cause of death by conducting extensive studies.
The researchers wrote a study in which they detailed their findings on the rare virus that killed the men. They published their study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
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