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Prospective Investigation of Feline Leukemia Virus Infection in Stray Cats Subjected to a Trap–Neuter–Return Program in Switzerland


Meli, Marina L; Pineroli, Benita; Geisser, Esther; Hofmann-Lehmann, Regina (2024). Prospective Investigation of Feline Leukemia Virus Infection in Stray Cats Subjected to a Trap–Neuter–Return Program in Switzerland. Viruses, 16(3):394.

Abstract

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) remains a serious concern in some countries despite advances in diagnostics and vaccines. FeLV-infected cats often have reduced lifespans due to FeLV-associated diseases. The infection is transmitted through social interactions. While Northern European countries have reported a decrease in FeLV among pet cats, Switzerland’s rates remain stagnant at 2.7% (2016/17: 95% CI 1.4–5.2%). Research on FeLV in Swiss stray cats has been lacking, even though these animals could serve as a virus reservoir. Sampling stray cats that do not receive regular veterinary care can be challenging. Collaboration with the Swiss Network for Animal Protection (NetAP) allowed for the prospective collection of saliva samples from 1711 stray cats during a trap–neuter–return program from 2019 to 2023. These samples were tested for FeLV RNA using RT-qPCR as a measure for antigenemia. Viral RNA was detected in 4.0% (95% CI 3.1–5.0%) of the samples, with 7.7% (95% CI 4.9–11.3%) in sick cats and 3.3% (95% CI 2.4–4.4%) in healthy ones. We identified three geographically independent hotspots with alarmingly high FeLV infection rates in stray cats (up to 70%). Overall, including the previous data of privately owned cats, FeLV-positive cats were scattered throughout Switzerland in 24/26 cantons. Our findings underscore welfare concerns for FeLV infections among stray cats lacking veterinary attention, highlighting the potential risk of infection to other free-roaming cats, including those privately owned. This emphasizes the critical significance of vaccinating all cats with outdoor access against FeLV and developing programs to protect cats from FeLV infections.

Abstract

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) remains a serious concern in some countries despite advances in diagnostics and vaccines. FeLV-infected cats often have reduced lifespans due to FeLV-associated diseases. The infection is transmitted through social interactions. While Northern European countries have reported a decrease in FeLV among pet cats, Switzerland’s rates remain stagnant at 2.7% (2016/17: 95% CI 1.4–5.2%). Research on FeLV in Swiss stray cats has been lacking, even though these animals could serve as a virus reservoir. Sampling stray cats that do not receive regular veterinary care can be challenging. Collaboration with the Swiss Network for Animal Protection (NetAP) allowed for the prospective collection of saliva samples from 1711 stray cats during a trap–neuter–return program from 2019 to 2023. These samples were tested for FeLV RNA using RT-qPCR as a measure for antigenemia. Viral RNA was detected in 4.0% (95% CI 3.1–5.0%) of the samples, with 7.7% (95% CI 4.9–11.3%) in sick cats and 3.3% (95% CI 2.4–4.4%) in healthy ones. We identified three geographically independent hotspots with alarmingly high FeLV infection rates in stray cats (up to 70%). Overall, including the previous data of privately owned cats, FeLV-positive cats were scattered throughout Switzerland in 24/26 cantons. Our findings underscore welfare concerns for FeLV infections among stray cats lacking veterinary attention, highlighting the potential risk of infection to other free-roaming cats, including those privately owned. This emphasizes the critical significance of vaccinating all cats with outdoor access against FeLV and developing programs to protect cats from FeLV infections.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:05 Vetsuisse Faculty > Center for Clinical Studies
05 Vetsuisse Faculty > Veterinary Clinic > Department of Clinical Diagnostics and Services
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Scopus Subject Areas:Health Sciences > Infectious Diseases
Life Sciences > Virology
Uncontrolled Keywords:Virology, Infectious Diseases
Language:English
Date:2 March 2024
Deposited On:24 Apr 2024 10:11
Last Modified:30 Jun 2024 01:40
Publisher:MDPI Publishing
ISSN:1999-4915
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.3390/v16030394
PubMed ID:38543760
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)