A virulent strain of feline coronavirus has cost the lives of thousands of cats on the stunning island of Cyprus.
To help the animals survive the outbreak and stop its spread, veterinary services are set to distribute anti-Covid pills that were part of a stockpile originally meant for humans.
Vets in the Mediterranean country, so famous for its large feline population that it has often been dubbed the “island of cats”, have received the first batch of drugs and started distributing the treatment on August 8 – when International Cat Day is celebrated.
Christodoulos Pipis, the government’s veterinary services director, told the Guardian: “This is the first batch of 2,000 packages that will be made available.”
The island is expecting to receive a total of 500 boxes of medication, which the expert noted will grant Cyprus with 80,000 pills, given each package contains 40 capsules.
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Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is caused by feline coronavirus and is a disease that almost always results in the death of the cats affected if left untreated.
Cyprus’s Cat Protection and Welfare Society (PAWS) has claimed that since January, when experts first noticed the outbreak, some 300,000 cats have died.
This figure has been branded an “exaggeration” by local vets who, while bringing down the number of feline victims to around 8,000 haven’t dismissed the gravity of the outbreak, dubbed FCoV-23.
Echoing the spread of COVID-19 the world experienced in early 2020, FCoV-23 took hold of the whole island within three to four months, the Pancyprian Veterinary Association (PVA) said.
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Feline coronavirus is considered a common illness among cats, with those affected often not showing symptoms or suffering only mild diarrhoea. However, when it mutates into FIP, the virus becomes more deadly.
The highly virulent FCoV-23 is a mutated feline virus not related to COVID-19 and can’t be contracted by humans.
The decision to distribute anti-Covid pills to help the cats is due to the fact one of their active ingredients, molnupiravir, has proven beneficial to cats diagnosed with FIP.
While outbreaks of FIP have occurred in the past in a number of countries including the UK, they were always confined to catteries and places where stray cats gather.
The virus currently spreading through Cyprus has baffled experts as it has reached even indoor-only pets.
Animals who have been struck with the disease can be nursed back to health, the PVA president, Nektaria Ioannou Arsenoglou, said.
The PVA head added: “We’re very happy that the drug has now been approved. It will give people the ability to treat their cats so that more can be saved … it will definitely make a difference.”
Cyprus is famous for its feline population, believed to be around one million exemplars.
The link between the island and cats goes back centuries, with a Byzantine legend claiming that in 328 AD Helena of Constantinople, also known as St Helen, brought hundreds of felines from either Egypt or Palestine to Cyprus to get rid of venomous snakes that had infested the monastery now named St Nicholas of the Cats.
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