While we are still in the midst of a global pandemic and uncharted territories, a surprising discovery involving cats and FIP has emerged with promising possibilities to a better understanding of COVID-19. In fact, cats may hold the key to overcoming the coronavirus.
While the outbreak of COVID-19 came as a shock to many, a similar scenario has already played out in a feline virus decades ago. Feline enteric coronavirus (FECV), the virus responsible for cats developing Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), emerged out of no where in the 1960s. However, scientists and researchers have still not pinpointed the origin of this virus, similar as we are currently still trying to trace back the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.
While this situation is a novel one for humans, it has been seeing the clinical signs for years in cats and kittens infected with FIP. Most cats have no or mild symptoms when infected with FECV. They shed the virus for a short time and then recover. However, small number of infected cats end up developing full-blown FIP,
Although the FDA differentiates between animal and human health, there is potential for scientists, physicians, and researchers to gain further insight, and perhaps even an effective treatment, for COVID-19. One company based in California, Anivive Lifesciences, is applying their knowledge of FIP antiviral therapies to a potential therapy to be used by humans infected with COVID-19. The company has recently filed a pre-Investigational New Drug (pre-IND) to begin preclinical studies for the drug they use to treat FIP, called GC376, for treatment of COVID-19.
However, it is important to clarify that Anivive does not participate in any vivisection, and does not infect cats wtih either SARS-CoV-2 or FECV in their research. They rely on their current FIP data to better understand clinical comparisons during human trials. GC376 inhibits coronaviruses by blocking the action of a protein that the virus needs to replicate itself. In turn, this prevents cells from producing virus particles, which prevents the further spread of the infection through a host, either cat or a human. Anivive is increasing manufacturing capabilities and moving forward more quickly on formulation and stability studies.
Currently, humans are still playing catch-up when it comes to finding a cure or preventive vaccination for COVID-19. However, the information that scientists and researchers have extrapolated from cats infected with FECV and FIP gives a promising hope for a better understanding of SARS-CoV-19 and COVID-19, and hopefully, a chance at finding a cure.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had widespread and significant effects on TNR efforts throughout the country. With social distancing measures in place, the closure of vets and spay/neuter clinics, and limited spaces in ones that remain open, individuals practicing TNR at this time must take some extra steps and precautions.
First, confirm that your spay/neuter clinic is open and accepting community cats. Also confirm if an appointment is required, or if you can bring them in on a walk-in basis. Clinics have amended their policies to limit physical contact and maintain social distancing, so inquire beforehand what the new protocols in order to prepare yourself and the cats.
If spay/neuter clinics are closed or operating on a limited capacity, consider prioritizing trapping the cats that are most in need. Similarly, avoid locations where you may be at a greater risk of contracting the virus.
In order to limit the number of individuals you come into contact with while trapping, focus on trapping a large colony as opposed to trapping at various sites with lower numbers of cats. When trapping single cats of small groups, prioritize the colonies with female cats who may be pregnant or be at high risk of becoming pregnant. Sites with only male cats or kittens under five months should be considered a lower priority.
In order to adhere to social distancing, target sites that can be easily accessed without having to through a home or building. Similarly, visit sites where you already know the caretaker and where additional door-to-door outreach is not necessary. Do not trap at any site where a caretaker is suspected of having or has been diagnosed with COVID-19, and if necessary, arrange for a replacement caretaker while the primary caretaker recovers.
Instead of speaking in person with caretakers or residents at the trapping site, communicate with them via emails, calls, or texts. Be sure to have contact information for anyone you may need to speak with before the day of trapping. If you are unfamiliar with the site, have the caretaker provide you with photos of key areas, such as where the cats are fed and where they stay.
If possible, trap on your own as opposed to in teams. If it is necessary to trap with others, do not have more than two people participating at one time. Remember to maintain social distancing measures with caretakers, other trappers, and residents in the community. Where a face covering at all times, and be careful not to touch your face. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after trapping. While in the field, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol after touching shared surfaces.
To minimize contact, each trapper should use their own set of supplies and drive in a separate car. Mutual handling of traps should be avoided when possible. If more than one person is handling the traps, wipe the trap handles and doors with a disinfectant and sanitize your hands afterwards.
Clean and Disinfect
After completing your trapping, thoroughly clean and disinfect traps and other equipment, as well as any vehicles used to transport cats and holding areas where cats were held before and after surgery. Wash trap covers at the hottest appropriate setting, and change clothes after returning home. And as always, wash your hands thoroughly.
If you come across a litter of previously unknown kittens at or near weaning age, consider the options the kittens have for socialization and adoption. Many shelters and rescue organizations may be closed, but may have a waiting list of available fosters. If no placement is available, provide the kittens with the appropriate vet care and return them to their colonies.
Stay Up to Date
This situation is constantly changing and evolving, so continue to keep yourself informed on policies regarding face coverings, social distancing, and other recommended safety precautions. Visit the AVMA and CDC websites for the most current recommendations and always remember to use precaution while trapping during the pandemic.
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