Local red squirrels facing leprosy threat

Squirrels are suffering leprosy
Squirrels are suffering leprosy

Squirrels infected with leprosy have been discovered in Dumfries and Galloway, according to a recent report.

And while experts say the disease poses no threat to humans, it does to the fragile red squirrel population.

Scientists in Edinburgh say that while just six cases have been confirmed since 2006, the situation is likely to be much wider-spread than they have seen so far.

The disease is caused by a bacteria similar to Mycobacterium lepromatosis which has been confirmed with symptoms including hair loss and severe swelling to the snout, eyelids, ears and feet.

Infected animals have been found the length and breadth of the country – from Dumfries and Galloway in the south to the Moray Firth in the north.

It is the first time the disease has been found in the species and little is known about the spread of the potentially fatal disease.

Professor Anna Meredith of the Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies at Edinburgh University is leading the research.

She said: “We suspect this disease is more widespread than the six cases we have confirmed.

“Red squirrels are in decline. They are threatened by the grey squirrel and already face the major threat of the squirrelpox virus.

“This is the last thing that they need – another disease which could potentially threaten the population.”

Scientists are urging the public to report sightings of squirrels which they believe may be suffering from the condition.

They hope that by gathering new data they can build a more detailed understanding of the disease.

There is no suggestion of any risk to human health advice is to follow basic hygiene rules before and after handling dead squirrels, which can be posted to the university using, ‘appropriate packaging’.