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Deadly cat virus in Cyprus could be ‘potentially catastrophic for UK’ | World News

A deadly outbreak of feline coronavirus that has killed hundreds of thousands of cats in Cyprus could be “catastrophic” if it were to reach the UK, an expert has told Sky News.

Around 300,000 cats – both domestic and stray – have died of feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) on the island since January, according to Dinos Ayiomamitis, head of Cats PAWS Cyprus.

Britain has a long history with Cyprus, with ex-pats travelling to and from the island and many people rehoming cats to the UK.

But what is FIP, why have so many cats died – and is there a risk of an outbreak in the UK?

What is the disease that is killing cats?

FIP is a disease caused by feline coronavirus (FCoV).

FCoV is a common and contagious virus in cats that is spread through their faeces. Most cats will not show symptoms, and if they do it is limited to mild diarrhoea.

But in some cases, the virus mutates into FIP, which is almost always fatal.

Dr Jo Lewis, a feline veterinary surgeon, told Sky News “infection rates tend to be highest in cats living in close quarters and sharing toileting facilities”, like catteries and rescue centres, for example.

“It’s also important to note that the virus can be transmitted mechanically on grooming brushes, cat litter scoops and even on human feet and hands,” says the author of What’s My Cat Thinking?.

“That theory may explain why many indoor-only cats in Cyprus are being affected.”

Dr Nathalie Dowgray, head of the International Society of Feline Medicine, said the outbreak was “very concerning” for cats, cat owners and vets in Cyprus.

“For many, including stray cats, treatment will likely not be possible and sadly this will likely result in significant mortality.”

Whether a cat gets FIP or not depends on the “types of mutations, the load of virus and individual cat immune system”, Dr Dowgray said.

Stray cats in the old city of Nicosia, Cyprus
Stray cats in the old city of Nicosia, Cyprus

What are the symptoms of FIP?

FIP is hard to diagnose but most cats with the virus will have a fever, appear lethargic and go off their food.

There are two types of the virus – wet FIP and dry FIP.

In cats with the former, fluid builds up in the abdomen or chest, causing swelling.

“We tend to see cats presenting with a large fluid-filled belly and breathing difficulties, who are increasingly lethargic and picky with their food,” Dr Lewis said.

Cats with dry FIP have less fluid build-up but may have a poor appetite, high temperature and vision problems.

FIP is more likely to develop in young cats between three months and two years old.

Why has there been a FIP outbreak in Cyprus?

Cyprus is known as the “island of cats”.

Strays roam everywhere and the earliest evidence of cats being domesticated was found there, in a 9,500-year-old burial site.

Feline coronavirus spreads via cat faeces. Where there are lots of cats in the same place, the chances of cats catching it are higher, and experts have also found the virus is more likely to mutate into FIP.

Cats’ stress levels are also high when they live in crowded shelters, which could make them more susceptible to developing FIP.

How significant is this outbreak?

Generally, FIP is only reported in about 1% of the cat population, but in outbreaks such as the one in Cyprus, up to 40-50% of cats could develop FIP.

Dr Lewis said: “What’s concerning about the evidence from the Cyprus outbreak, is that a particularly nasty FCoV mutation seems to have already occurred.”

Cyprus is known as the ‘island of cats’

‘The risk to UK cats is significant’

An outbreak of this size is said to have not been seen anywhere before, so if it reaches the UK it could be quite serious and will weigh heavily on the minds of cat owners and vets.

Dr Lewis told Sky News: “There’s a genuine risk that if this gets into the UK it could have catastrophic consequences on our favourite pets.

“Anyone who has witnessed FIP heartache first-hand will understand the potential impact.”

The biggest risk to cats in Britain is importing the animals.

“We have a long history with Cyprus and plenty of British expats live and travel back and forth so the risk to UK cats is significant,” Dr Lewis added.

“We need to limit that risk by screening any cats leaving Cyprus and any nearby affected countries.”

She said cats leaving the island should be examined and blood tested for FCoV antibody levels, and any cat with symptoms shouldn’t travel.

Read more:
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Can FIP spread to humans?

No, humans cannot catch feline coronavirus and therefore cannot develop FIP.

How is it treated and how costly is it?

Dr Lewis said until recently there were very few treatment options available for FIP, which meant most cats who developed it were put down, and there’s also no vaccine in the UK.

“However, now there are now some, albeit very expensive, options that are available here in the UK – like remdesivir injections that are also used for humans with COVID-19, and a similar drug called GS-441524, an oral tablet.

“Unfortunately, the million cats living in Cyprus do not yet have access to these drugs.”

GS-441524 could be imported to Cyprus from the UK, but it is expensive – €3,000-€7,000 (£2,500-£6,000) per cat.

Anti-viral pill molnupiravir has also been considered as a treatment option, but it has not been licensed for feline use in Cyprus.

COVID-19: Girl, 15, died after deteriorating ‘astonishingly quickly’ from rare heart inflammation caused by virus | UK News

A 15-year-old schoolgirl died after detonating “astonishingly quickly” from a rare case of heart inflammation caused by coronavirus, an inquest has heard.

Jorja Halliday, from Portsmouth, started to feel unwell in the early hours of 24 September 2021 and tested positive for COVID later that day.

She had a telephone appointment with her GP on 27 September who prescribed her antibiotics for her sore throat – as she had a history of tonsillitis.

The following day, however, her condition worsened and she started to vomit.

She was given another appointment on 28 September, which revealed her heartrate was 147 beats a minute and prompted the doctor to refer her to hospital as an emergency.

Her mother Tracey Halliday drove her to Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth as the wait for an ambulance would have been too long, the inquest heard.

There she was placed in a medically induced coma so she could be transferred for specialist care in Southampton – but she died five hours later.

Dr Nicholas Tarmey, the consultant in intensive care medicine who treated Jorja, said she was “really pale”.

“Apart from the colour, she looked frightened, not just of the situation, she also had a sense something was seriously wrong with her body,” he told the coroner.

“I think it comes from the amount of adrenaline being released by the body to boost blood pressure that gave her the anxious, frightened feeling.

“Her body was struggling to cope and she was deteriorating very quickly and she looked confused and agitated. There are not many illnesses that lead to a deterioration as quickly as that and it is horrible.”

Consultant hadn’t seen any other child with same issue

Myocarditis, a rare inflammation of the heart, has been identified as an extremely uncommon side effect of the COVID vaccine.

Dr Tarmey added: “We presume it was the COVID that was the virus causing the inflammation of the heart muscle.

“I haven’t treated any other children with COVID as the cause of myocarditis, that is in keeping with how rare it is.”

The medics could not conclude that a coronavirus vaccine would have improved Jorja’s chances of survival.

Jorja, who was a keen kickboxer, had been due to get the COVID vaccine the day she died.

Consultant paediatric pathologist Samantha Holden gave a cause of death of acute myocarditis associated with COVID-19 infection.

Coroner Sarah Whitby gave a verdict of natural causes.

Teenager was ‘very active’

Mrs Halliday said after the hearing that the possibility the jab could have saved her daughter will always haunt her.

“It’s always going to be a question in my mind, would the outcome have been different.

“It’s heart-wrenching because your kids are always meant to outlive you, and that’s the one thing I can’t get over.”

Paying tribute to her, she added: “She was a loving girl and she had lots of friends.

“She was very active, she liked to go out and spend time with her friends and loved spending time with her brothers and sisters.

“Growing up she turned into a beautiful young lady, always wanting to help others, always there for everybody.”

Modified herpes virus shows promise killing off cancer cells – with one patient seeing disease vanish | UK News

A modified herpes virus has shown promise killing off cancer cells – with one patient seeing the disease vanish entirely.

Patients were injected with a drug that was a weakened form of the cold sore virus – herpes simplex – that has been modified to kill tumours.

While more research is needed, it could offer a lifeline for those living with advanced-stage cancer.

Krzysztof Wojkowski, 39, a builder from West London, went from end-of-life care to being cancer free after joining the trial.

Mr Wojkowski was diagnosed with Mucoepidermoid carcinoma, a type of salivary gland cancer, in May 2017.

Despite multiple surgeries, he was told that there were no treatment options left, before being given the opportunity to join the RP2 trial at The Royal Marsden in 2020.

He said: “I was told there were no options left for me and I was receiving end of life care, it was devastating, so it was incredible to be given the chance to join the trial at The Royal Marsden, it was my final lifeline.

“I had injections every two weeks for five weeks which completely eradicated my cancer. I’ve been cancer free for two years now, it’s a true miracle, there is no other word to describe it.

“I’ve been able to work as a builder again and spend time with my family, there’s nothing I can’t do.”

The genetically engineered virus, which is injected directly into the tumours, is designed to have dual action – it multiplies inside cancer cells to burst them from within and it also blocks a protein known as CTLA-4, releasing the brakes on the immune system and increasing its ability to kill cancer cells.

Image: Carcinoma of salivary gland. Credit: Nephron, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Image: Carcinoma of salivary gland. Credit: Nephron, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Rare to see such promise in early trials

Three out of nine patients treated with RP2 saw their tumours shrink.

Seven out of 30 patients who received both RP2 and the immunotherapy nivolumab also benefitted from treatment.

In this group, four out of nine patients with melanoma skin cancer, two out of eight patients with the eye cancer uveal melanoma, and one out of three patients with head and neck cancer saw their cancer’s growth halt or shrink.

Of the seven patients receiving the combination who saw a benefit, six remained progression-free at 14 months.

It is rare to see such a good response rate in early-stage clinical trials, according to the study leader Professor Kevin Harrington, professor of biological cancer therapies at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and consultant oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.

He said: “Our study shows that a genetically engineered, cancer-killing virus can deliver a one-two punch against tumours – directly destroying cancer cells from within while also calling in the immune system against them.

“It is rare to see such good response rates in early-stage clinical trials, as their primary aim is to test treatment safety and they involve patients with very advanced cancers for whom current treatments have stopped working.

“Our initial trial findings suggest that a genetically engineered form of the herpes virus could potentially become a new treatment option for some patients with advanced cancers – including those who haven’t responded to other forms of immunotherapy.

“I am keen to see if we continue to see benefits as we treat increased numbers of patients.”

Exploiting the features of viruses

Professor Kristian Helin, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said it is possible to exploit some of the features of viruses.

They said: “Viruses are one of humanity’s oldest enemies, as we have all seen over the pandemic. But our new research suggests we can exploit some of the features that make them challenging adversaries to infect and kill cancer cells.

“It’s a small study but the initial findings are promising. I very much hope that as this research expands we see patients continue to benefit.”