A deadly Covid variant which has reportedly killed 8,000 cats in Cyprus, has been detected in the UK.
The highly infectious F-Cov-23 strain was brought into the country by a cat that had been transported from Cyprus. The cat's owner sent it for tests after noticing unusual symptoms, and now experts have identified this as a new hybrid version of an existing feline and canine coronavirus, not linked to the pandemic.
Symptoms include mild diarrhoea and lethargy, but most cats show no signs, making treatment tricky. In one out of 10 cases, the virus mutates into a fatal condition called feline infection peritonitis, causing loss of appetite, anaemia, jaundice, fever, a swollen abdomen and inflammation. Cat owners are being urged to watch out for these symptoms.
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The virus is believed to have killed at least 8,000 cats in Cyprus in the first half of this year, but the actual figure could be up to 300,000. In August, Cyprus authorities approved human-targeted Covid treatments for cats to try and control the outbreak. A study published on bioRxiv warns of a potential outbreak of feline covid. The mix of canine coronavirus with the feline strain has made the disease more infectious.
Dr Christine Tait-Burkard, the author of the study, told The Telegraph: "This new virus appears to spread readily and no longer relies on changes or mutations in the host.
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"Our evidence suggests the virus may spread directly from cat to cat by faecal contamination, just like the cat and dog coronaviruses it originated from. For example, if a cat uses the same litter tray, or outdoor area, as an infected cat and then licks its paws."
FIP can be treated by a drug if caught in its early stages, but it is expensive and human-targeted Covid drugs cannot legally be used to treat cats in the UK.
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