London, November 15: In a startling development, a  lethal strain of coronavirus, identified as F-CoV-23, has surfaced in the United Kingdom, claiming the life of at least one cat and triggering fears of a potential outbreak among British pets. The virus, initially discovered in Cyprus, has already wreaked havoc on the feline population on the Mediterranean island, with estimates suggesting casualties ranging from 8,000 to a staggering 300,000 cats. The transmission of the virus to the UK was confirmed through an infected cat transported from Cyprus, raising fears of a potential threat to the British feline population.

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh, the Royal Veterinary College, and the Cypriot government have raised alarm over the virus's rapid transmission among cats. F-CoV-23 spreads directly from cat to cat, primarily through faecal contamination in shared spaces such as litter trays or outdoor areas. Unlike its predecessors, this new strain no longer relies on host mutations, making it more infectious and challenging to contain. F-CoV-23, once dormant in cats, has mutated into a more contagious form, making it difficult to detect and treat. COVID-19 in UK: Britain Prepares to Reinstate Surveillance Amid Concerns Over New Coronavirus Variant, Say Reports.

Transmission and Symptoms

A study published on bioRxiv by researchers from the University of Edinburgh, the Royal Veterinary College, and the Cypriot government highlights the significant risk of the F-CoV-23 outbreak spreading. The virus, spreading through faecal contamination and shared spaces among cats, is causing symptoms ranging from mild diarrhoea and lethargy to fatal feline infection peritonitis (FIP), a fatal condition causing loss of appetite, anaemia, and jaundice.

Multiple reports show this new strain is distinct from COVID-19 but shares similarities with feline and canine coronaviruses. The study also discusses potential treatments, including the use of remdesivir and molnupiravir, previously employed in human COVID-19 treatment, to mitigate the virus's impact on the feline population. COVID-19: UK Expert Warns of Pandemic Worse Than Coronavirus in New Book.

Treatment Challenges and Potential Solutions

Cypriot authorities have already taken emergency measures to control the outbreak on the island known as the "island of cats." Veterinarians and volunteers are working tirelessly to treat infected animals, while domesticated cats are being quarantined to prevent further spread. In the UK, the discovery of an infected cat has raised alarms, leading to ongoing investigations into other potential cases. To combat the virus, discussions are underway regarding potential treatments, including remdesivir and molnupiravir, both previously used in human Covid-19 cases.

However, legal restrictions currently prevent the use of these drugs on cats in the UK. Scientists emphasise the need for preventive measures, comprehensive monitoring, and rigorous treatment protocols to safeguard the feline population. While there is no evidence of extensive spread of F-CoV-23 in the UK, cat owners are advised to be vigilant, especially if their pets exhibit symptoms associated with FIP or have a connection to Cyprus or recently imported cats.

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Nov 15, 2023 11:53 AM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website