A devastating outbreak of feline coronavirus in Cyprus, leading to a high number of fatalities among cats, has raised serious concerns about the potential catastrophic consequences if the virus were to reach the UK, according to experts.
Since January, approximately 300,000 cats, including both domestic pets and strays, have succumbed to feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) on the island.
The situation has garnered the attention of Dinos Ayiomamitis, the head of Cats PAWS Cyprus, who warns of the potential dangers the virus poses to the UK due to the longstanding connection between the two regions.
FIP is caused by feline coronavirus (FCoV), which is a common and contagious virus spread through cat feces.
While most cats infected with FCoV do not exhibit any symptoms or only have mild diarrhea, in some cases, the virus undergoes mutations and develops into FIP, which is almost always fatal.
Dr. Jo Lewis, a feline veterinary surgeon, points out that infection rates are highest among cats living in close quarters, such as catteries and rescue centers, where they share toileting facilities.
Furthermore, the virus can be transmitted mechanically on grooming brushes, cat litter scoops, and even through human feet and hands, which might explain why indoor-only cats in Cyprus are being affected.
The symptoms of FIP can be challenging to diagnose, but most infected cats exhibit fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite.
There are two types of the virus: wet FIP, which causes fluid buildup in the abdomen or chest, and dry FIP, characterized by less fluid accumulation but with poor appetite, high temperature, and vision problems.
The outbreak in Cyprus has raised alarm among cat owners and veterinarians. Generally, FIP is reported in only about 1% of the cat population, but in this outbreak, up to 40-50% of cats have developed FIP, raising concerns about a particularly severe FCoV mutation.
Dr. Lewis emphasized that the risk to cats in the UK is significant, especially concerning the importation of animals from Cyprus, as many British expats live and travel between the two regions.
To mitigate the risk, she suggests screening any cats leaving Cyprus and neighboring affected countries and examining their FCoV antibody levels. Cats showing symptoms should not travel.
Despite the alarming situation, it is essential to note that FIP cannot spread to humans, eliminating the risk of human infection.
Regarding treatment options, until recently, there were limited choices available for FIP, resulting in many affected cats being euthanized.
However, some expensive treatment options, such as remdesivir injections (used for COVID-19 treatment in humans) and the oral tablet GS-441524, are now available in the UK.
Unfortunately, these drugs are not accessible to the million cats living in Cyprus.
The anti-viral pill molnupiravir has also been considered as a potential treatment for FIP.
Still, it is not yet licensed for feline use in Cyprus, leaving a significant treatment gap for cats affected by the outbreak.
The situation in Cyprus serves as a stark reminder of the need for vigilance and preventive measures to protect cats in the UK from potential transmission of the virus.
Veterinarians and authorities are closely monitoring the situation and working to safeguard the feline population from any potential outbreak.
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