Borna virus encephalitis from squirrels

A Variegated Squirrel Bornavirus Associated with Fatal Human Encephalitis

By Avindra Nath

During a three year period starting in 2011, three individuals who bred variegated squirrels (Sciurus variegatoides) were diagnosed with encephalitis with similar clinical signs. All three patients died 2 to 4 months after clinical symptoms became apparent. Through the use of a metagenomic approach incorporating next-generation sequencing and real-time reverse-transcriptase quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR), a previously unknown bornavirus was detected in brain samples from the three patients and in a contact squirrel.  This virus, tentatively named variegated squirrel 1 bornavirus (VSBV-1), forms a phylogenetic lineage that is distinct from that of the known bornavirus species.

N Engl J Med 2015; 373:154-162 | July 9, 2015 | DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1415627

Journal link | PubMed entry