RESEARCH PAPER
Assessing a potential non-invasive method for viral diagnostic purposes in European squirrels
 
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1
Animal and Plant Health Agency-Weybridge, Woodham Lane, New Haw, Addlestone, Surrey, KT15 3NB, UK
2
The Royal Veterinary College, Royal College Street, London, NW1 0TU, UK
3
School of Biosciences, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford, GU2 7XH, UK
4
Co-ordinator of the JSPCA Animals’ Shelter Red Squirrel Disease Surveillance Scheme, JSPCA Animals’ Shelter, 89 St Saviours Road, St Helier, Jersey, JE2 4GJ
5
Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh and The Roslin Institute, Easter Bush Veterinary Centre, Roslin, Midlothian, EH25 9RG, UK
6
Centre for Wildlife Management, School of Biology, Ridley Building, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU, UK
7
School of Natural Sciences, Bangor University, Bangor, Gwynedd, LL57 2UW, UK
Online publish date: 2019-06-04
Publish date: 2019-06-04
 
Hystrix It. J. Mamm. 2019;30(1):44–50
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ABSTRACT
Viral infections globally threaten wild and captive mammal populations, with surveillance options limited by a lack of non-invasive diagnostics; especially when infection is asymptomatic in nature. We explored the potential for hair samples collected from red (Sciurus vulgaris) and grey (Sciurus carolinensis) squirrels to provide a means of screening for adenovirus (ADV) and squirrelpox virus (SQPV) using evolving polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays. An initial pilot study phase utilised samples opportunistically harvested from grey squirrels controlled in Gwynedd, United Kingdom (UK). The screening of 319 grey squirrel carcasses revealed 58% spleen ADV DNA qPCR and 69% SQPV antibody enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) positives. We developed new nested ADV and SQPV qPCRs and examined tail hair samples from a sub-set of 80 of these 319 sampled squirrels and these assays amplified ADV and SQPV DNA in a higher proportion of animals than the original qPCR (94% and 21% respectively). Tail hair samples obtained from six Cumbrian red squirrels which had died from squirrelpox disease also revealed 100% SQPV and 50% ADV DNA positive by the nested qPCR assays. These findings indicate enhanced sensitivity for the new platform. The integration of this non-invasive approach in assessing viral infection has wide application in epidemiological studies of wild mammal populations, in particular, during conservation translocations, where asymptomatic infections are of concern.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
We thank Peter Trimming, Deb Edwards and other members of the public who reported and collected squirrel bodies for post mortem and analysis. We particularly thank Tony Dyda for providing grey squirrel carcasses from Gwynedd and Dr. Matt Hayward for provision of tissue storage at Bangor University. A special thank you goes to Nadia Inglese, Siva Karuna, Joanna Prince-Wright and Charlotte Bickers from Mammalian Virology, APHA for their help with elements of the PCR training and to the anonymous reviewers who have tirelessly helped turn the manuscript into a more focused article, suited for its intended audience. Finally, we acknowledge the LIFE14 NAT/UK/000467 Sciurious LIFE project which is integrating the novel PCR in ongoing applied invasive species management.
eISSN:1825-5272
ISSN:0394-1914