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Wildlife chiefs concerned over squirrel pox virus

A SECOND red squirrel has been struck down by a deadly disease, similar to myxomatosis, in what is the first outbreak in this country.

Wildlife chiefs have raised concerns after the red squirrel with the squirrel pox virus was discovered on the lower slopes of the Sugar Loaf, near Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow.

The virus is carried by grey squirrels who do not appear to suffer from it. But they may have transferred it to the native Irish red squirrel.

Squirrel pox virus (SQPV) is generally fatal to red squirrels, as they rapidly develop myxomatosis-type symptoms seen in rabbits -- such as swollen runny eyes -- and die within a matter days.

The first death was discovered just before Christmas in the Hollywood area of Wicklow. The latest victim was found last Friday.

Dr Ferdia Marnell of the National Parks and Wildlife Services confirmed the second death and appealed to members of the public to contact them if they see any squirrels displaying the symptoms. "This is the first time we have seen this disease in the Republic," he said.

Dr Marnell said that although there are no records of SQPV infecting humans, people are advised not to handle sick or dead squirrels.

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