Feline immunodeficiency virus: A growing concern

Feline immunodeficiency virus: A growing concern

One significant viral infection that affects cats globally is the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV).
First identified during a study into a disease outbreak in a previously healthy colony of rescue cats in the United States, the virus was found to be exhibiting symptoms resembling those of individuals suffering from HIV-related acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). FIV only infects cats, whereas HIV only infects humans, even though HIV and FIV are quite similar viruses. Consequently, persons who come into contact with FIV-positive cats run no danger of infection. Bite wounds are the most common way that felines contract FIV. A cat who contracted the virus will carry it with them for the rest of their lives. Eventually, the virus may weaken the cat’s immune system and cause symptoms of illness.

Furthermore, a considerable percentage of Australian cats have been shown to carry the feline immunodeficiency virus, according to earlier research. More recent evidence, however, indicates that 15% of Australian cats with access to the outdoors test positive for the feline immunodeficiency virus. It is roughly equal to one in seven cats! It also indicates that the prevalence of feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) in Australia is among the highest worldwide.

Are you curious about the specifics of the feline immunodeficiency virus? FIV, on the other hand, is a deadly virus that impairs cats’ immune systems. It is considered to be the feline counterpart of HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), to put things into perspective.

How does FIV spread, and what does it entail?

The retrovirus family of viruses, often known as lentiviruses, includes the feline immunodeficiency virus. Cats infected with lentiviruses may not become ill for a long time since they usually only spread slowly.
The virus is found in the saliva of an infected cat and, once contracted, is almost usually permanent (cats cannot eradicate the virus). Through cat bites, where the virus is inoculated under the skin of the recipient cat, the virus is most frequently spread from one feline to another. Regular disinfectants can easily eradicate the virus since it does not endure long in the environment.

The virus can also, very infrequently, be transferred by blood transfusions and non-aggressive cat-to-cat contact (such as mutual grooming).

Maintaining a regular flea management program is crucial because it is unknown if blood-sucking parasites like fleas might transfer infection.

How does FIV result in illness?

White blood cells, primarily lymphocytes, are the immune system cells infected by FIV. The virus that infects cells has the potential to kill, harm, or interfere with normal cell function. The cat’s immune system may eventually gradually deteriorate due to this.

The virus multiplies in the initial weeks following infection and may result in minor symptoms like low-grade fever and enlarged lymph nodes. These symptoms are usually so slight that people miss them. There will be an immune reaction that retains the virus at a low replication level but does not completely eradicate it.

Some infected cats eventually experience a resurgence of viral replication, and these animals usually go on to show symptoms of illness. This will generally happen two to five years after the cat was initially affected. The immune system progressively deteriorates as a result of increased viral replication.

How often is the FIV virus?

In different cat populations, the prevalence of FIV infection varies. It is more common in environments where cats are kept mostly indoors and in densely populated areas (where catfights are more common). It is far less common in environments with low cat populations. FIV infection is often seen in 1-5% of healthy cats, but in high-risk cats (such as those exhibiting signs of recurrent illness that may indicate immunosuppression), the frequency can reach 15-20%. Outdoor cats are far more likely to become infected, and male cats are roughly twice as likely to become infected as female cats. While infections can affect cats of any age, middle-aged cats (five to ten years old) are the most frequently diagnosed.

Clinical manifestations of symptoms

Depending on the disease’s progression and the specific cat, FIV infection can result in a broad range of clinical signs and symptoms. While some cats may exhibit clinically severe symptoms early in the course of the infection, others may not show any symptoms at all for many years. Still, FIV typically results in immunosuppression, which means that the cat’s natural immune responses are weakened, making the cat more vulnerable to infections and other illnesses. FIV does not have any particular symptoms; however, infected cats usually experience recurrent episodes of illness or infections that worsen with time and may not react to treatment as effectively as might be expected.

Among the most typical symptoms of FIV infection in cats are:

  • Loss of weight
  • Frequent fever
  • lassitude
  • Increased lymph node size
  • Stomatitis and gingivitis (oral and gum inflammation)
  • Chronic or recurring illnesses of the lungs, eyes, and intestines
  • Recurring skin condition
  • Neurological illness (viral infection can impact the brain in some cats)

Additionally, neoplasia (such as lymphoma) and other infectious agents (such as toxoplasmosis, hemoplasma infections, feline infectious peritonitis, etc.) may become more problematic in cats infected with Feline Immunodeficiency (FIV).

When is FIV diagnosed?

The status of a particular cat can be determined, which helps with patient management and reduces the chance of FIV spreading to healthy cats. Prioritizing FIV testing in cats with anemia, lymphoma, unexplained neutropenia, or sequential opportunistic infections is essential.

The diagnosis of FIV infection can be made using a variety of tests, some of which are readily available at your local veterinary facility. The majority of testing entails drawing blood and looking for antibodies to the virus (typically, there is not enough virus in the blood itself to be able to detect it readily).

The test operates on the premise that since cats cannot rid themselves of the virus, the presence of antibodies in the blood indicates the presence of the virus. Antibodies against FIV are generated by the immune system of the cat during infection.

While most of these tests are very dependable, they could be better. Should there be any uncertainty regarding the accuracy of the test results, your veterinarian might choose to perform a second confirmatory test using a different technique (e.g., a different test kit or sending blood to a lab to check for viruses using a molecular test like PCR or to check for antibodies using a more advanced assay like “western blotting”).

It’s crucial to remember that while they might not be infected, kittens born to FIV-infected queens will test positive early in life because they will absorb antibodies from the queen through the milk. It is always recommended to retest kittens who test positive between the ages of 5 and 6 months. Alternatives (such as a PCR test) are required because cats that have received the FIV vaccine will also test positive on standard antibody testing in the countries where it is available.

Managing alternatives

Many cats infected with FeLV can coexist peacefully with the virus for extended periods, and the virus itself may never manifest as a clinical illness. Numerous variables, such as the type of FIV a cat is infected with, the immune system of the cat, and the existence or lack of additional infectious agents, affect whether disease develops in cats. In one study, it was discovered that cats with FIV infection lived, on average, less than five years (from when the sickness was detected). In contrast, a comparable group of cats without the infection lived, on average, about six years.

The primary goals of controlling a feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) infection are to stop the virus from spreading to other cats and to keep the afflicted cat as healthy as possible. It has been demonstrated that several antiviral drugs used for HIV infection in human patients can also benefit some FIV-infected cats.

Typical supportive and general care should consist of the following:

All FIV-infected cats should be neutered to lower their risk of infection and fighting.
FIV-positive cats should, whenever feasible, be kept indoors and kept apart from healthy cats. This lessens the chance of the FIV-infected cat contracting additional infections and helps stop the infection from spreading to other cats. As an alternative, construct a cat-proof enclosure so that your cat can go outside but stays safe from other cats. Observe the garden’s fencing.
Reducing the chance of coming into contact with parasites and bacteria that could cause illness can be accomplished by maintaining a healthy diet, which includes using high-quality commercial foods and avoiding raw meat, eggs, and unpasteurized dairy products.
Keeping up good routine preventative healthcare (such as routine immunizations, flea and worm control, etc.)
Two yearly veterinary checkups are the best option, but occasionally, your veterinarian may recommend specific blood tests to monitor your cat’s health.

Timely identification and suitable management of any concurrent or subsequent illnesses. In cases where bacterial infections are associated with substantial immunosuppression, longer antibiotic treatments might be required.

Avoidance and management

Numerous nations now offer an accessible licensed FIV vaccine. The information at hand indicates that the vaccine provides a reasonable level of protection and that cats who are significantly at risk of contracting FIV may find it helpful. Given that there are several strains of FIV, it is unreasonable to anticipate that the vaccination will provide total protection. Additionally, a cat with vaccinations will later test positive for FIV infection on commonly used antibody tests.

Although it might occasionally be challenging in a multicat household, FIV-infected cats should ideally be kept apart from other cats. Some owners choose to maintain the household setup as is because there is little chance of transmission through social contact, such as sharing food bowls and grooming one another. Given the high concentration of virus in saliva, it could be beneficial to at least feed cats in different bowls. After use, food bowls and litter trays should be cleaned to eradicate the virus.

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