COVID variant responsible for 8,000 cat deaths in Cyprus emerges in UK

Feline infectious peritonitis has rapidly spread across Cyprus in recent months.—AFP In a concerning development for cat enthusiasts, the F-CoV-23 variant of COVID, accountable for the demise of over 8,000 cats in Cyprus, has surfaced in the UK.

The infected feline, imported from Cyprus, raises anxieties about the well-being of British pets. Although distinct from COVID-19, F-CoV-23 is a variant recognised as feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), a type of coronavirus.

This strain, believed to be a hybrid of existing feline and canine coronaviruses, triggered a significant outbreak in Cyprus. Analysis by the University of Edinburgh, the Royal Veterinary College, and the Cypriot government revealed a shared “genetic fingerprint” between the infected cats in the UK and 91% of those in Cyprus.

Cypriot authorities reported over 8,000 cat deaths in the first half of 2023, with estimates suggesting the true toll could exceed 300,000.

The infected British cat, displaying symptoms, has undergone tests and treatment. Scientists highlight a “significant risk” of further outbreak spread, though confirmation of the first UK-imported case is pending peer review.

Unlike prior feline coronaviruses, F-CoV-23 appears to spread more readily, no longer relying on host changes or mutations. 

While currently showing no evidence of infecting dogs or humans, experts advise cat owners against confining their pets, emphasising no apparent threat to humans or dogs.

Ongoing investigations into additional cases aim to closely monitor the evolving situation.

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