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Compendium September 2008 (Vol 30, No 9)

News Bites (September 2008)

by Robert Sartori, DVM

    Taking Aim at FeLV and FIV

    Julie K. Levy, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, University of Florida—FeLV and FIV infections can slowly degrade the immune system, lead to bone marrow failure, and even cause cancer. Prevention can be as simple as identification and segregation of infected cats, yet most cats are never tested for either virus.

    Alarmed by this fact, the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recently updated its retrovirus testing guidelines for diagnosing, treating, and preventing these infections. These guidelines, which were prepared by an international panel of experts that reviewed research findings from around the globe for the latest clues about the viruses, call for the universal testing of all cats.

    Retroviral infection rates have remained stubbornly stable for the past 2 decades. There has been a tremendous increase in the understanding of how these viruses attack and evade the immune system but less success in preventing new infections.

    Currently, each virus affects approximately 1% to 3% of all cats in the United States, putting the diseases they cause among the most common life-threatening maladies in cats. The risk of infection with at least one of the viruses rises steeply in cats with certain conditions: for example, in cats with abscesses or bite wounds, it is 19%, and in cats with oral inflammation, it is 14%. Interestingly, infection rates among pet cats that roam outdoors are similar to those of free-roaming feral cats.

    Scientists have given us an entire menu of new tests to choose from, and novel vaccines have been developed. We are even starting to see medications that are specifically licensed for treatment of retrovirus-infected cats. Still, the best tool we have to fight these infections is to prevent exposure to them in the first place. As our feline patients' primary advocate, we veterinarians must ensure that every pet is tested.

    The AAFP panel concluded that cats should be tested when they are first acquired, following a high-risk event, and whenever they become sick, regardless of their previous testing history. Simple, inexpensive, patient-side tests can be conducted in veterinary offices in just a few minutes. These tests allow owners to identify infected cats and prevent the spread of infection by restricting infected cats from roaming where they may encounter other cats. The AAFP does not recommend euthanasia of infected cats. Instead, the new guidelines include recommendations for management to keep them as healthy as possible.

    The AAFP guidelines also provide suggestions for preventing the spread of infections in cash-strapped animal shelters.

    This is a transitional time for the animal welfare field as demand grows for life-saving solutions for homeless cats. The desire to save more homeless cats and to provide a better quality of life for cats in shelters and feral cat neutering programs means that program directors have to use limited resources to achieve the best cost:benefit ratio. The AAFP has given shelters strategies for stretching their testing and vaccination budgets to the best effect.

    Although much progress has been made in refining diagnostic tests and vaccinations, the development of treatments for infected cats has lagged behind. The AAFP is calling on scientists and animal health funding agencies to make a top priority of developing and evaluating antiretroviral treatments for the millions of cats that are already infected.

    The AAFP is composed of veterinarians devoted to improving the health and well-being of cats by supporting high standards of practice, continuing education, and scientific investigation. The 2008 American Association of Feline Practitioners' Feline Retrovirus Management Guidelines can be viewed at catvets.com.

    NEXT: Reading Room — Antimicrobial Therapy in Veterinary Medicine