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UPDATED: Virus strikes Prince William Animal Shelter; 83 cats euthanized

© Leesburg Today - 09/22/2015

Prince William County Animal Control has euthanized 83 cats at the shelter and halted cat adoptions and surrenders after an attack of a highly contagious feline virus.

The shelter Tuesday morning reported that lab results confirm the spread of calicivirus through a majority of cats at the shelter. The virus, known as calici, is a highly contagious infection that causes upper respiratory and oral disease in cats.

""The virus has a tendency to mutate, rendering preventative vaccinations in a shelter environment virtually ineffective,"" Prince William police Sgt. Jonathan Perok said in a news release. ""Since calici is a virus, there is no specific treatment, only supportive care.""

The illness is spread through respiratory excretions, urine and feces as well as bedding and food dishes. It can also be spread through the hands, clothing and shoes of people who handle infected animals. It is not contagious to humans or dogs.

But among cats, this virus is highly contagious and can cause pneumonia, severe painful oral ulceration and in some cases painful arthritis. 

""Recovered cats are persistently infected for long periods and will continue to shed virus,"" the release said.

Symptoms include sneezing, nasal congestion, conjunctivitis (inflammation of the membranes lining the eyelids), and discharges from the nose or eyes. The discharges may be clear or may become purulent (containing pus).

 ""This should be of particular concern to cat owners who allow their cats to roam freely outside the home, leave food outside for community cats, and those who monitor cat colonies,"" the news release said.

While the shelter vaccinates cats for upper respiratory infections, viruses are brought in. Once they are, they must be managed.

Police originally said all cats at the shelter had been euthanized, but animal control officials say cats in the adoption room are still available, and being monitored for signs of the illness. The shelter has stopped all cat adoptions and surrenders for two to three weeks and urges pet owners to contact their veterinarians if cats are displaying any signs of possible calicivirus.

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