A potentially lethal strain of coronavirus, identified as F-CoV-23, which has been associated with over 8,000 cat fatalities in Cyprus, has now made its way to the United Kingdom, raising concerns about the well-being of British pets. The transmission occurred when a cat imported from Cyprus was discovered to be carrying the virus, causing alarm among pet owners.
Despite not being directly linked to Covid-19, this newly emerged strain is classified as a type of coronavirus known as feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). Scientists from the University of Edinburgh, the Royal Veterinary College, and the Cypriot government collaborated on an analysis that revealed F-CoV-23 as a hybrid strain, originating from the combination of an existing feline coronavirus and a canine coronavirus.
The University of Edinburgh, the Royal Veterinary College, and the Cypriot government conducted an analysis, determining that the infected cat in the UK shares a “genetic fingerprint” with 91 percent of the infected felines in Cyprus. Disturbingly, Cypriot authorities reported that the virus has claimed the lives of at least 8,000 cats in the first half of 2023, with speculations suggesting that the actual number could surpass 300,000.
The infected cat in the UK, having developed symptoms after arrival, has undergone testing and is currently receiving treatment. Earlier attempts to mitigate the outbreak involved administering human Covid treatments to felines, but the efficacy of this approach remains uncertain.
Scientists are expressing a “significant risk” of further spread of the outbreak, a concern emphasized before the completion of peer review. The confirmation of the first case in the UK imported from Cyprus underscores this risk, prompting ongoing investigations into additional cases.
Unlike previous strains, FIP generally did not pose a significant threat to feline health. Dr. Christine Tait-Burkard, one of the study authors, highlighted that FIP typically does not spread directly from cat to cat. Additionally, data currently available suggests that the new hybrid strain does not have the capacity to infect dogs or humans.
The situation remains dynamic, and vigilance is advised among pet owners, veterinarians, and authorities to monitor and manage the potential spread of this emerging feline coronavirus strain.