Swift Action Needed During Outbreak of Virulent Calicivirus

DAVIS, Calif. ” (June 13, 2006) ” When virulent systemic feline calicivirus (VS-FCV) strikes, aggressive action is needed to keep the highly contagious and often deadly disease from wreaking havoc within a veterinary practice.

The disease initially surfaced in the late 1990s as a mutated and much more dangerous strain of the common feline respiratory ailment calicivirus. Kate Hurley, DVM, MPVM, assistant clinical professor at University of California-Davis, says the mortality rate for mutated calicivirus is between 40 and 60 percent among adult cats.

“The scary thing about calici (VS-FCV) is how contagious the disease is,” she says, noting the virus can survive and spread from surfaces such as tables, doorknobs, clothes and shoes. “It can attack and kill healthy, adult, well-vaccinated cats, frequently within 24 to 48 hours.”

In 2002, Hurley and her colleagues at UC-Davis investigated a VS-FCV outbreak in Los Angeles. The disease spread from several shelter cats and ultimately affected four clinics. Hurley says the outbreak was a nightmare for the facilities involved.

In several cases, she says, healthy cats that had been taken to the clinics for wellness exams picked up the virus and then, passed it along to other animals in their household.

“In a couple of instances, a family lost its entire household of previously healthy cats,” Hurley says. “It was really heartbreaking. Several technicians brought the disease home on their clothing and ended up losing their pets as well.”

Hurley emphasized the affected clinics responded quickly and aggressively once the outbreak was identified. Infected animals were isolated, all surfaces were disinfected with bleach and clients whose animals may have come in contact with the disease were contacted. The clinics also closed for several weeks to ensure the disease was stamped out and no other animals would be put at risk.

“Closing for that period of time can have a major economic impact on a practice,” Hurley says. “But, they really didn’t have any choice.’’

Specific guidelines about halting the spread of virulent calicivirus are available at the UC-Davis website: www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/msmp/protocols/vs_fcv/vsfcv_prevention.htm.

Ironically, Hurley and others speculate that VS-FCV outbreaks occurring outside a clinic setting may not spread, because infected animals do not live long enough to transmit the disease to many other animals. Nonetheless, Hurley says clinic outbreaks are occurring with increasing frequency and veterinarians must be on guard for signs of the disease.

Hurley says symptoms of VS-FCV can include:

  • High fever
  • Facial and limb edema
  • Ulceration and hair loss, especially on the face, muzzle, feet and pinnae
  • Nasal and ocular discharge, oral ulceration, anorexia and depression
    (These are more commonly seen in association with common field strain calicivirus infection; only a concern if seen with the signs listed above.)

She pointed out it is extremely important for veterinarians, researchers and others to communicate early and often at the first sign of a possible VS-FCV outbreak, in order to seek guidance as well as spread the warning.

“Veterinary clinics need to communicate with each other, animal shelters, public health authorities and universities to help identify VS-FCV outbreaks, as well as other emerging diseases in pet animals,” she says. “It’s important to remember diseases are not always stable, and as a result, new threats are constantly emerging, particularly in high-density, urban environments.”


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