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Coronavirus in California shelter cats

Final report, Winn grant W10-036 , a Bria Fund project
Molecular prevalence and viral load of replicating feline coronavirus in the bloodstream of healthy shelter cats in southern California
Investigators: Pedro Paulo Diniz, Yvonne Drechsler, Linda Kidd, Frank Bossong, Ellen Collisson; Western University of Health Science, Pomona, CA

Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) remains a serious disease affecting cats, and while much remains unknown, research supported by Winn Feline Foundation is helping to shed light on this enigmatic disease. One of the major challenges of FIP is often the diagnosis; since a diagnosis of FIP is currently essentially a death sentence, accurate appraisal is vital. Unfortunately, the disease often presents with vague signs, and laboratory testing seldom offers any conclusive information. FIP is associated with feline coronavirus infection. However, the majority of cats infected with this virus never suffer any significant disease; thus, testing for the virus in suspected cases is also inconclusive, regardless of the result. In order to better understand all parameters associated with disease production, these researchers wanted to examine characteristics of virus infection in otherwise healthy cats. Perhaps distinctions from those suffering from FIP could be identified to aid diagnosis. To do this, they assessed the amount of virus actually replicating in the blood of over 200 shelter cats in California.

Interestingly, they found that the incidence of actual replicating virus was quite low in the blood, even in cats that were actively shedding virus in their feces. The level of viral replication in cats with FIP is frequently fairly high, but in healthy cats, at least in the population tested by these investigators, actively replicating virus in the blood is quite low despite known infection. Thus, detecting high levels of replicating virus in the blood may be a useful diagnostic tool for FIP cases, and would allow distinction of harmless coronavirus infection from FIP. In order to validate these results, the investigators plan to test all cats for the presence of antibodies to the virus which would provide a picture of how prevalent infection, past or present, is among this population. [MK]