A Novel Squirrel Respirovirus with Putative Zoonotic Potential
In a globalized world, the threat of emerging pathogens plays an increasing role, especially if their zoonotic potential is unknown. In this study, a novel respirovirus, family Paramyxoviridae, was isolated from a Sri Lankan Giant squirrel (Ratufa macroura), which originated in Sri Lanka and deceased with severe pneumonia in a German zoo. The full-genome characterization of this novel virus, tentatively named Giant squirrel respirovirus (GSqRV), revealed similarities to murine (71%), as well as human respiroviruses (68%) with unique features, for example, a different genome length and a putative additional accessory protein. Congruently, phylogenetic analyses showed a solitary position of GSqRV between known murine and human respiroviruses, implicating a putative zoonotic potential. A tailored real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) for specific detection of GSqRV confirmed a very high viral load in the lung, and, to a lesser extent, in the brain of the deceased animal. A pilot study on indigenous and exotic squirrels did not reveal additional cases in Germany. Therefore, further research is essential to assess the geographic distribution, host range, and zoonotic potential of this novel viral pathogen.