What is Herpes Virus Infection?

Once your chinchilla has been exposed to herpes virus, it will become ill with several symptoms, ranging from eye infections to central nervous system disorders, uveitis (eye inflammation), mydriasis (dilation of the pupils) and purulent rhinitis (inflammation of the mucous membranes of the nose, leading to nasal and respiratory symptoms). Because of the virus’ ability to affect the brain and other body organs, the condition could become fatal.

Chinchillas who develop herpes virus infection usually contract it from humans with the disease. Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) falls within the Herpesviridae family, with the genus Simplexvirus. It’s described as an enveloped DNA virus, which means the virus is enclosed in an outer wrapping. The wrapping itself comes from an infected cell. As the new virus separates from its host, it is spontaneously enclosed in the envelope, which consists of the cell’s plasma membrane.

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Symptoms of Herpes Virus Infection in Chinchillas

You’ll notice the following symptoms in your chinchilla when she becomes ill with HSV-1 infection:

  • Uveitis (inflammation of the eyes)
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Ulcerative keratitis
  • Purulent rhinitis (inflammation of the mucus membranes of the nose)
  • Mydriasis (dilation of the eyes)
  • Seizures
  • Disorientation
  • Apathy
  • Recumbency (leaning to one side)

Other conditions may develop from the herpes virus infection

  • Polioencephalitis
  • Retinitis
  • Optical neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve)

Causes of Herpes Virus Infection in Chinchillas

The sole cause of herpes virus infection in your chinchilla is exposure to a human actively shedding the virus. Individuals who carry HSV-1 and are shedding the virus should avoid contact with chinchillas. Herpes virus infection in a chinchilla is a lifelong condition and treatment is not always possible.

Diagnosis of Herpes Virus Infection in Chinchillas

Until your vet tells you what is making your chinchilla sick, you’ll only be able to describe her symptoms and behaviors. From your description, your vet may suspect an infection from herpes virus, but until he runs tests and examine your pet, he won’t know for sure. 

To make an accurate diagnosis, your vet will physically examine your chinchilla. He will also draw blood and have the lab isolate the virus and perform genetic sequencing on the virus’ DNA. The lab also performs an immunohistochemistry test. Your chinchilla’s infection is rare, which is why your vet will be cautious and consider other illnesses as the cause of your pet’s symptoms. Once the test results come back, he’ll discuss the possibility of treatment with you.

Treatment of Herpes Virus Infection in Chinchillas

For your chinchilla, as for humans, the herpes virus infection is a lifelong condition. Curing your pet of the herpes virus infection won’t be possible, but treatment of symptoms related to the herpes infection can make her more comfortable for the duration of her life. Depending on the severity of your pet’s symptoms, your vet may recommend humane euthanasia instead of subjecting her to treatments that may not be effective.

Recovery of Herpes Virus Infection in Chinchillas

The outcome for chinchillas who contract herpes virus infection is generally poor. Because the disease affects the brain and central nervous systems of chinchillas who develop this disease, they may die suddenly before their owners know what is making them ill.