Dreaming myself out of a job!
Virologists tend to have two dreams: discovering a new virus, or eradicating an existing one. I fall into the latter category.
For three decades I’ve studied feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) and come to the conclusion that the search for a cure is like closing the door after the horse has bolted: most of these cats are just too sick to be fixed. How about we stop the cat getting infected in the first place? Of course, that is the principle of vaccines, and there is an FIP vaccine: Felocell FIP, which can prevent up to 75% of FIP cases.
Some vaccines – e.g. smallpox, rabies – have succeeded in eradicating viruses when widely used. I remember a wonderful lecture where the speaker showed a chart of rabies cases in Poland falling year after year after a countrywide campaign of aerial drops of rabies vaccine, targeting the wildlife reservoir of the virus and wiping it out.
Similar results were obtained in Germany.
So what about FIP, or rather, feline coronavirus (FCoV), the virus which causes FIP? Well, the FIP vaccine isn’t sterilising – which means that a vaccinated cat can still excrete virus in his or her faeces after getting infected, he just won’t develop FIP. Prevention of FCoV infection in cats is a bit like prevention of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in humans: the key is to avoid being exposed to the virus and antibody testing is the way to go. For example, porn stars are regularly antibody tested for HIV antibodies to avoid exposing their co-workers to infection.
Over the past few years I have made a careful study of FCoV antibody tests: my quest was to find a test in which I could be absolutely confident that a negative result really truly meant that a cat had no FCoV: i.e. a test that was very sensitive and gave no false negative results.
I found such a test, it was the FCoV/FIP Immunocomb, made by Biogal, and it is a complete kit in itself, requiring no more complicated laboratory equipment than an ordinary scanner that comes with most printers. (Though I do recommend buying a laboratory grade pipette (e.g. from Anachem or Dutscher) to accurately measure out the 5 microlitres of sample the test kit requires, rather than using the little pipettes which come with the kit.)
Using the Immunocomb and other, sensitive, FCoV antibody tests, people can screen any cat they would introduce to their existing cats to be sure of NOT introducing FCoV.
Since 70% of FIP cases come from cat breeders, buyers of purebred kittens should insist on seeing a FCoV negative antibody test certificate before handing over their hard-earned money – otherwise they are headed for months of huge veterinary bills and heartache.
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For more information on FIP diagnosis and treatment; to learn how to breed FCoV free kittens; for free veterinary continuing professional development, (continuing education); or to buy the ebook “FIP and Coronavirus” visit www.catvirus.com The book is also available from Amazon.