Pet owners and vets are being warned against complacency after the resurgence of a deadly feline panleukopenia virus (FPV)—almost eradicated 40 years ago by vaccinations—was confirmed by Australian tests recently.
The once vanquished viral disease feline panleukopenia has caused the death of scores of cats in Sydney in recent weeks, investigations into the outbreak by researchers from the University of Sydney show. The symptoms are fever, lethargy and loss of appetite, followed by vomiting and diarrhea. In severe infections cats can die suddenly with no signs.
Sydney veterinarian Dr Tanya Stephens, owner of Haberfield Veterinary clinic, said she had not diagnosed a case for 40 years. That was until her practice diagnosed the disease in four rescued stray kittens. The kittens died after a short illness.
The disease has also struck three animal shelters in western Sydney, resulting in the deaths of more than 50 cats. Affected cats were mostly kittens that had not yet been vaccinated, or were not fully vaccinated.
DNA sequencing by University of Sydney Professor Vanessa Barrs has confirmed that the strain of virus causing the outbreak in Australia is feline panleukopenia virus (FBV). It coincides with several large outbreaks of parvovirus in dogs in NSW, around the Shoalhaven area as well as the Riverina region and Tamworth.
“The message for pet owners is make sure your dogs and cats are vaccinated against these deadly infections,” said Professor Barrs, from the Sydney School of Veterinary Science and Marie Bashir Institute. “Disease in cats is caused by parvoviruses, small DNA viruses. The main one is feline panleukopenia virus but parvoviruses that infect dogs can also cause the disease in cats.”
However, there is no risk for humans as the disease cannot be passed on to them.
Feline panleukopenia virus, also known as feline enteritis, is a deadly viral infection of cats that was first discovered more than 100 years ago. With the uptake of vaccinations, disease virtually disappeared from Australia in the mid-1970s.
The current outbreak is particularly dangerous because it occurs in the middle of summer, when there are larger numbers of kittens around, which are most susceptible to the disease.
The research by Professor Barrs and her colleagues indicates that current vaccines should be effective.
“The current outbreak seems to be caused by a lack of mass vaccination, especially in shelter-housed cats,” Professor Barrs said.
“The disease had previously re-emerged in Melbourne cat shelters a few years ago but despite warnings, cats have not been vaccinated in many shelters because their risk of disease was perceived to be lower than in dogs, when in reality the risk to cats is high.
“When less than 70 per cent of the population is vaccinated, there is a perfect storm for the emergence of a disease epidemic. The current outbreak is a timely reminder that maintaining immunity in populations of animals where effective vaccines are available is essential.”
Sydney School of Veterinary Science
The Sydney School of Veterinary Science is the nation’s premier place to receive training in veterinary medicine. Ranked first in Australia and 9th in the world for veterinary science in the 2016 QS World University Rankings, Sydney has also been given a maximum score of 5 in the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) federal government scheme for the veterinary sciences field of research.
In the Sydney DVM, teaching is research-driven to ensure students will learn from the latest developments and advances in evidence-based practice, veterinary science research, animal behaviour and welfare science and veterinary public health. Students will benefit from a fully integrated learning curriculum with clinical exposure, clinical skills training and animal handling commencing in the first semester and throughout the course.
Program: Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)
Location: Sydney, New South Wales
Semester intake: March
Program duration: 4 years
Application deadline: TBA. for the 2017 intake, the application deadline was September 14, 2016.