An ongoing dialogue on HIV/AIDS, infectious diseases,
July 11th, 2015
Citing WHO Guidelines, Squirrels Protest Latest Virus Discovery
Saturday, July 11, 2015
Dear Dr. Drazen:
On behalf of the International Association of Variegated Squirrels, I am writing to protest the article that appeared in your July 9 2015 issue, entitled “A variegated squirrel bornavirus associated with fatal human encephalitis.”
We variegated squirrels believe the title and content of this paper are stigmatizing to variegated squirrels, and are not in keeping with recent guidance from the WHO regarding best-practices in naming new diseases.
As a reminder, variegated squirrels the world over are trying to counter literally centuries of discrimination and injustice. Indeed, the paper you published includes these chilling sentences:
All three patients [with encephalitis] were breeders of variegated squirrels (S. variegatoides). They were friends, had met privately on a regular basis, and had exchanged their squirrel breeding pairs on multiple occasions.
In our opinion, this involuntary captivity and heartless exchange of fellow variegated squirrels highlights the ongoing challenges we face on a day-to-day basis.
In addition, based on extensive communications I have had with non-variegated squirrels, I am concerned that the paper will have a similarly negative effect on all 200 squirrel species. From the five-inch African pygmy squirrel to the three-foot Indian giant squirrel, all are upset about this stigma by association. And you don’t want to get a three-foot squirrel mad at you, trust me on that one.
Squirrels — variegated and non-variegated alike — have much to be proud of. Before scientists go and name a scary viruses after us, please keep in mind the literally millions of innocent fellow squirrels who roam free, climb trees, nibble acorns and other nuts, and have never transmitted a disease to anyone.
Chairman and Spokes-Squirrel
International Association of Variegated Squirrels
(H/T to Rebeca Plank for the photo and link to squirrel facts.)