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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 September 2005, 09:31 GMT 10:31 UK
Pet drug may halt squirrel virus
Red squirrel
Red squirrels can die of small pox within 15 days
Winnie the red squirrel has become the first of her species in Cumbria to be saved from a killer disease using a drug used to treat cats and dogs.

The red squirrel population is currently under threat from a small-pox virus spread by the grey variety, which is immune to it.

Now Penrith-based vet, Jess Gillon, has made a medical breakthrough in the fight against the disease.

He used the viral-fighting drug Virbagen to save Winnie from death.

Mr Gillen said: "This is a minor breakthrough and we will be using the drug on other squirrels to see if a pattern develops.

"This female is the second squirrel we have used the drug on, but unfortunately the first did not survive. We are hoping Winnie has now become immune to the disease."

'Scabby and docile'

Symptoms of the virus include skin ulcers, lesions and scabs, swollen eyes and discharge around mouth, feet and genitals.

Grey squirrels are seldom harmed by the virus but red squirrels have no immunity and usually die within 15 days.

Squirrel conservation officer Gerry Moss found Winnie while on patrol in the Oasis Holiday Park in Penrith.

He said: "Luckily I caught the squirrel when the infection was only in one eye and this new drug seems to have done the trick.

"I rely very heavily on volunteers to help me keep a record of sightings and would urge people to keep a look out for squirrels suffering from the disease which makes them scabby and docile."


SEE ALSO:
Plans to protect red squirrels
18 Feb 04 |  Scotland
Virus threatens UK's red squirrels
07 Mar 03 |  Science/Nature
Refuge offers red squirrels hope
03 Feb 04 |  Science/Nature
Squirrel survival plea
29 May 03 |  Scotland


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