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Microbiologists identify 'drunken stargazing snake' virus

Microbiologists have identified an entirely new class of virus that they believe is responsible for a mysterious condition that causes bizarre "drunken" behaviour and eventual death in snakes.

Inclusion Body Disease (IBD) affects boa constrictors and pythons and causes them to first regurgitate food. They then display neurological problems, one of which is "stargazing" -- where the snake just stares upwards for long periods of time. Following that, the creatures act drunk and "tie themselves in a knot that they can't get out of", according to Michael Buchmeier, a professor of infection diseases at the University of California. Ultimately, snakes with the disease develop pockets of foreign material (known as inclusions) within their cells, which proves fatal.

Buchmeier's team has been investigating an outbreak of IBD in snakes at the Steinhard Aquarium in San Francisco. They believe that they have identified a virus responsible for the common but deadly condition.

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