The UK has identified the first case of a deadly cat coronavirus that early this year killed 8,000 felines in Cyprus.
Early in January this year, the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, also nicknamed the "island of cats" for its 1-million-strong feline population, witnessed about 8,000 cat deaths due to the feline infectious peritonitis (FIP).
FIP is a common condition caused by a type of cat coronavirus characterised by fevers, swollen bellies, and lethargy; and can turn fatal unless treated.
The latest infection was identified in a cat brought to the UK from Cyprus, after it developed symptoms and was sent for tests and treatment by its owner.
In a new study, published on a preprint website, and not peer-reviewed yet, researchers showed that the new strain of infection -- F-CoV-23 -- is a hybrid of existing feline coronavirus and canine coronavirus.
So far, it is not linked to Covid-19.
The combination includes the cat virus gaining the dog pathogen's spike protein, making it more infectious, said the scientists from the UK and Cyprus in the study, warning of a "significant risk" of the outbreak spreading further.
"We report the emergence of a novel, highly pathogenic FCoV-CCoV recombinant responsible for a rapidly spreading outbreak of feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), originating in Cyprus," said the team including from the University of Edinburgh in UK.
Infection is spreading fast and infecting cats of all ages.
"This is exemplified by the recent confirmation of a first UK-imported case with further investigations into other cases ongoing," they said. According to experts, there is currently no evidence that dogs or humans can be infected, while there is no reason for worried cat owners to keep their pets inside and away from other animals at present.
"If the cat has not travelled to Cyprus or been in contact with other cats that have visited Cyprus, the risk is minimal," Alexandros Chardas, Lecturer in Veterinary Anatomic Pathology, and Dr Sarah Tayler, Lecturer in Small Animal Internal Medicine, from the Royal Veterinary College, were quoted as saying to The Independent.
"The cats develop the classic signs of FIP with enlarged abdomen and can also be off their food. Occasionally, they may display neurological clinical signs or experience difficulty breathing. In the presence of suspected clinical signs, owners are advised to promptly contact their veterinarian for assessment and guidance."
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