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Squirrel poxvirus is a virus that causes a fatal disease "squirrelpox" in UK red squirrels. The virus is often carried by UK grey squirrels, who rarely die from the disease. Elsewhere in the red squirrels European range, either the grey squirrel does not occur or it lacks the poxvirus hence the disease only occurs in the UK.
Grey squirrels very rarely die from this disease as their population has developed immunity having been exposed to the virus for many years; however, they are still carriers of the infection and can spread the disease to red squirrels. In sharp contrast, there are no known red squirrels that have developed immunity to the disease, and the mortality rate for untreated infected squirrels in the wild appears to be 100%; most dying within 4-5 days of being infected.
The virus can spread through contact with the infected lesions or contaminated crusts. Most poxviruses are highly resistant to drying, which allows crusts to remain infectious for long periods of time. It is believed that the virus can be transferred by contaminated feeders, which is why red squirrel preservation organizations often recommend that feeders are disinfected daily. Many poxviruses are potentially zoonotic, and other poxviral infections have been reported in man.
In red squirrels, the virus causes skin ulcers, lesions, and scabs. It can also cause swelling and discharge (from the lesions/scabs) near the eyes, mouth, feet, and genitalia. Additionally, squirrels that fall victim to the disease often become increasingly lethargic as it progresses.
The origins of the squirrel poxvirus are mostly unknown. The first confirmed incident was in East Anglia in the 1980s. It has since spread to Lancashire (confirmed in 1995-1996), Cumbria (spring 1998), Durham (1999), and Northumberland (1999). The squirrel poxvirus is regarded as a significant factor in the decline of red squirrel populations in the UK.
Although the squirrel poxvirus has only been recorded once in Scotland, it may be more prevalent due to lack of thorough testing.
Although red squirrels were once prevalent throughout the British Isles, there are now only about 140,000. Most of these are in Scotland. The decline of red squirrels is blamed mostly on disease, the loss of woodlands, and competition by grey squirrels. There are over 2.5 million grey squirrels in the British Isles. Red squirrels' survival chances in conifer woods are much higher than in deciduous woods.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Squirrel_parapoxvirus". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|