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Mortality in red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) associated with exudative dermatitis

Abstract

Red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) found dead or dying on the Isle of Wight and the island of Jersey were suffering from exudative, ulcerative dermatitis and superficial staphylococcal pyoderma. The principal gross lesions were on the lips, eyelids and feet and showed similarities to those of squirrelpox. The histopathological lesions were also similar and, although there was no ballooning degeneration of epidermal cells, intracytoplasmic inclusions resembling those seen in poxvirus infections were present. Examination of lesions by electron microscopy failed to identify any virions, and PCR analysis for squirrelpox virus proved negative. The skin lesions also resembled those of mange, but although numerous mites were present in the fur these were mostly Dermacarus sciurinus with small numbers of Metalistrophorus pagenstecheri. The occurrence of these species on red squirrels in Britain is confirmed, but neither is pathogenic and they were not considered to have been involved in the pathogenesis of the dermatitis, the primary cause of which was not established.

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