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Feature August 2013 Issue

Important Research That May Ultimately Unravel FIP

The Missing Link to FIP

After gathering the world’s largest collection of samples of the virus that causes feline infectious peritonitis, Cornell scientists may finally have found the mutation that makes the virus fatal.

Scheduled to be published in an upcoming issue of Emerging Infectious Disease, the Cornell study provides a long-sought breakthrough — which will hopefully open the door to development of the first working diagnostics, vaccines and treatments for feline infectious peritonitis (FIP).

Dramatic and most often fatal, feline peritonitis develops when feline enteric coronavirus — a common and benign intestinal virus — mutates. Discovered by a Cornell veterinarian in 1963, this mutant moves from intestinal cells to white blood cells called macrophages. Traveling through the body, it kills most cats within weeks. Kittens are particularly vulnerable, especially in shelters and catteries. (See related article in Catnip, July 2013.)

Current tests cannot distinguish between the common coronavirus and the killer peritonitis virus, and unfortunately there are no effective vaccines or therapies.

“FIP is a tragic disease for families falling in love with new kittens and for veterinarians who can do nothing to stop it,” explains Gary Whittaker, virology professor at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

The Cornell researchers found exactly what changes when coronavirus mutates into peritonitis virus. This knowledge is expected to lead to tests, vaccines and treatments to protect cats from the disease.

The research was funded by Cornell’s Feline Health Center, the Winn Feline Foundation and the Morris Animal Foundation.

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