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The Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
A new virus called Feline Immunodeficiency Virus was first isolated in 1987 by Dr. Peterson in a group of California house cats suffering from an AIDS-like syndrome. Since that time, the FIV agent has been discovered by means of special tests to be fairly widespread in the general cat population throughout the world. As many as 15-30 percent of high risk cats (those that are allowed to roam free) may be involved.
This particular virus is in the same group as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) but is antigenically different from the human strain. This means that the feline virus cannot cause human disease and, in fact, all attempts to grow the feline virus in human cells have failed.
The virus is transmitted in nature primarily through bites occurring during cat fights. Licking and grooming do not appear to be efficient means of transferring the virus between cats. Kittens do not routinely become infected from their mothers prior to birth or during the nursing period. About fifteen percent of cats with FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus) are also positive for FIV, indicating that the two viruses may often play a duel role in these infections.
The symptoms seen with FIV are mainly attributable to other diseases that develop due to the suppressed immune system of these cats. Initially, a low grade fever, lowered white cell count and enlarged lymph nodes may be seen. Months to years later, chronic gum (gingival) infections, chronic upper respiratory infections, chronic diarrhea, and chronic skin problems may persist. General sickly appearance and poor hair coat may be the only outward signs that a problem exists. A few cats develop vague neurological (nervous system) symptoms as well.
Some cats that have been infected for years seem to have histories of recurrent illnesses followed by periods of normalcy. In these cats the white cell counts and red cell counts drop during times of illness, and return to near-normal levels at other times.
Diagnosis may be suggested by the chronic disease signs, but is usually confirmed by specific tests for the viral antibodies. Eight to twelve weeks may elapse after infection before detectable antibody levels appear. The disease persists for the life of the cat. There is no cure for the virus. Treatment is directed at controlling secondary bacterial infections.
We recommend that you have your cats tested for this potentially devastating disease.