A cat that was brought to the UK from the Mediterranean island was found to be infected, after it developed symptoms and was sent for tests and treatment by its owner
A highly-infectious strain of Covid that struck down thousands of cats in Cyprus is now in the UK, according to scientists.
The virus entered the country on the back of a cat transported from the Mediterranean island to the UK. The feline was found to be infected after its owner sent it for tests when they started recognising a number of different symptoms.
Experts have identified it as a new hybrid version of an existing feline and canine coronavirus. It’s called F-Cov-23 and is not linked to the pandemic Covid-19. Among its symptoms are mild diarrhea and lethargy, but the majority of felines display no symptoms, making it more difficult to treat.
One in 10 cases mutates into feline infection peritonitis, which can be fatal. It causes a loss of appetite, anemia and jaundice. Owners are being warned to look out for these key symptoms in connection to the condition. They also experience lethargy, a fever, a swollen abdomen and inflammation.
The virus is estimated to have killed at least 8,000 cats in the first half of this year on the island, but that figure could be as high as 300,000. Authorities on Cyprus approved human-targeted Covid treatments for felines in August to try and take control of the outbreak.
Many of the cats on the eastern Mediterranean island – which is known as the ‘island of cats’ as it is an early site of their domestication – are strays, and it’s common for them to meander around the towns and cities, often into people’s gardens, restaurants and scavenge near garbage bins. According to the Daily Mail, vets and volunteers and vets have been working hard in a bid to treat animals showing symptoms, while domesticated cats have been quarantined at clinics in an attempt to slow down the spread of the virus.
Open access website bioRxiv published a study of the British cat and warned there is a risk of the feline covid outbreak spreading. The disease caused by coronavirus, feline infection peritonitis (FIP), is common globally but was not considered to be a worry before this new strain arrived.
Around one in 10 of felines would develop FIP and symptoms including fever, lethargy and inflammation from Coronavirus which has been lying dormant in cats. However, without treatment it is almost always fatal.
Now, the combination of canine coronavirus with the feline strain has led to changes in the disease making it more infectious. The author of the study published on bioRxiv, Dr Christine Tait-Burkard, told The Telegraph: “This new virus appears to spread readily and no longer relies on changes or mutations in the host.
“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.