An infectious disease caused by Squirrelpox virus has contributed to the decline of red squirrels, Sciurus vulgaris, in the British Isles. Because of the heightened disease surveillance activity in red squirrels, adenovirus infection with associated mortality has been detected. Adenoviral disease is described in other rodent species usually associated with stressors. Here we 1) describe the pathologic findings in red squirrels found dead with adenoviral infection and gastrointestinal disease, and 2) investigate the epizootiology of the disease through pathologic investigation, scanning surveillance, and virologic studies. Ten red squirrels involved in conservation studies were diagnosed with adenoviral infection by electron microscopy or PCR. All squirrels exhibited diarrhea and small intestinal inflammation or hemorrhage was evident in seven cases. Lesions indicative of splenic lymphocytolysis were observed in one squirrel and leukocytic hepatitis in another. No adenovirus was detected in grey squirrels, Sciurus carolinensis, inhabiting the same forest area, but previous serologic studies showed that grey squirrels cannot be discounted as a reservoir of the virus. Scanning surveillance showed that 12% of 493 red squirrels had diarrheal disease and two of 13 free-living red squirrels with diarrheal disease had adenovirus infection. Adenoviral disease in declining free-living wild red squirrel populations in the British Isles occurs at a detectable frequency and its impact on the conservation of this species deserves further attention.
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Vol. 47 • No. 2