Hepatitis B Virus in Arctic Squirrels

Three different, but related variants of Hepatitis B Virus have been discovered in North-American rodents: Ground Squirrel Hepatitis B Virus (1975), Woodchuck Hepatitis B Virus (1978) and Arctic Squirrel Hepatitis B Virus (1996).

Evidence was presented[1] in 1996 for a novel member of the seemingly ever expanding family of Hepatitis B Viruses. The novel virus is endemic in wild arctic ground squirrels (Spermophylus parryi kennicotti), that are endemic in Alaska and Siberia. It was designed Arctic Squirrel Hepatitis B Virus.
[Image: Philippe Clement]
The complete genome was determined and compared with that of Ground Squirrel Hepatitis B Virus and Woodchuck Hepatitis B Virus. The results indicated that Arctic Squirrel Hepatitis B Virus appeared to be more closely related to Ground Squirrel Hepatitis B Virus than to Woodchuck Hepatitis B Virus.

Infected animals developed large liver nodules, consisting of non-malignant tumours.

Three slightly different viruses have evolved in American rodents. We can but wait for the news that another member of this family has been discovered. What unknown viruses are circulating in rodents in rat-infested cities in developing countries in Asia? Or in the growing number of decrepit American inner cities?

[1] Testud et al: A new hepadnavirus endemic in arctic ground squirrels in Alaska in Journal of Virology - 1996

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