Mr. Biggles, coping well with FIV infection
Up to one in 12 US cats tests positive for feline immunodeficiency virus, making the virus a leading cause of disease. This statistic concerns feline health experts, who suspect the viral infection may be underdiagnosed.
To help reduce the risk of new FIV infections, new recommendations for feline leukemia virus and FIV testing have been approved by the American Association of Feline Practitioners/Academy of Feline Medicine. They were drafted by the AAFP/AFM Advisory Panel on Feline Retrovirus Testing and Management.
In addition, a public awareness program has been developed to encourage cat owners to have their cats tested.
"The most significant change to existing guidelines is the panel's recommendation that veterinarians know the FIV infection status of all cats, not just cats over 6 months of age," said Dr. Katrin Hartmann, associate professor of companion animal internal medicine at the University of Georgia and member of the AAFP/AFM advisory panel.
"Early detection of feline immunodeficiency virus is an important aspect of caring for cats, particularly cats with other diseases, and in preventing the virus's spread. By knowing the FIV infection status of all cats, we can help pet owners make critical decisions about medical care, protect the health of both FIV-positive and -negative cats, and give cat owners peace of mind."
The AAFP/AFM intends to post the guidelines at aafponline.org for its members by May 1, and they will be accessible to nonmembers 30 days after posting.
Testing all cats is essential because identifying FIV-infected cats is the only way to control FIV, Dr. Hartmann added. In its 2001 report, the AAFP/AFM advisory panel recommends FIV testing at the following times:
- when cats are sick, regardless of previous negative test results
- when cats are newly adopted, either prior to introduction into a multiple-cat household or at adoption, if no other cats are present in the home
- when cats live in households with unknown FIV infection status; cats can remain with subclinical infection for years, even while they are transmitting the virus to uninfected cats
- when cats have had potential exposure, such as a bite inflicted by a cat of unknown infection status; such cats should be tested a minimum of 60 days following exposure
- when cats are at high risk of infection
Once FIV infection status is known, veterinarians can encourage cat owners to confine FIV-positive cats, reducing potential spread of the virus to other cats. With no commercial FIV vaccine available, avoiding exposure to the virus is the only way to prevent infection.
Dr. Jim Richards, director of the Cornell Feline Health Center at Cornell University and member of the AAFP/AFM advisory panel, said, "Practitioners should already be testing every cat for FeLV infection, which is recognized as a leading cause of disease and death in cats, so testing for FIV infection should not increase practice workload."
Cat owner education important in stopping FIV spread
Cat owners, especially those with high-risk cats, need to know about FIV and be more responsible for careful management of FIV-infected animals, Dr. Hartmann said. Unfortunately, many cat owners are not aware of FIV.
A recent IDEXX Laboratories survey of cat owners in Minneapolis and St Paul, Minn, found little awareness of FIV, although cat owners were aware of other diseases such as feline leukemia. But once the surveyed pet owners understood that FIV is a chronic infection of cats similar to human immunodeficiency virus HIV, they wanted to know more. Specifically, they wanted to know about FIV prevalence, transmission, and clinical signs, and the availability of a diagnostic test, vaccine, and treatment.
To increase cat owners' awareness about FIV and the need for testing, the AAFP will be initiating a public awareness campaign this spring. The campaign will include a 30-second television commercial that encourages owners to have their cats tested and directs them to their veterinarian for more information.
Other components of the educational initiative will include an informational Web site (www.FIVtest.com), materials for use by reporters and pet columnists at daily newspapers, magazines and TV and radio talk shows, and in-hospital materials for practitioners and staff members to use with cat owners.
Veterinarians can request more information or copies of an educational brochure for clients by calling IDEXX at (800) 248-2483.