The head of Cyprus’ veterinarians’ association on Wednesday dismissed as groundless claims that a lethal mutation of a virus has taken the lives of some 300,000 cats, saying they misleadingly depicted the small island nation abroad as a “feline cemetery.”
The director of the Pancyprian Veterinary Association, Nektaria Ioannou Arsenoglou, says the numbers presented by local animal activists and amplified by foreign media outlets “simply don’t add up” since a survey of 35 veterinary clinics conducted by the Association only indicate an island-wide total of around 8,000 such deaths.
Arsenoglou told the Associated Press Wednesday the local mutation of Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), caused by the feline version of the coronavirus, is nearly always lethal if left untreated, but medication can nurse cats back to health in approximately 85% of cases. Spread through contact with cat feces, neither the virus or its mutation can be passed on to humans.
But specific medication that can treat both the so-called “wet” and “dry” forms of the illness is very expensive, although Arsenoglou said she was “optimistic” that efforts with government authorities to secure medical supplies would soon bear fruit.
It’s unclear how many feral cats live in Cyprus, but they have a long history on the island. According to Byzantine legend, cats were introduced to Cyprus by Saint Helen on her way back to Constantinople after completing her quest to find the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified to combat the huge number of venomous snakes then plaguing the island.
Feral cats are beloved by the overwhelming majority Cypriots, who go the extra mile to feed and care for the felines.
A Cypriot cat activist who goes by the name Marina Niaou and who maintains a feral cat colony complained to the AP that authorities have been dragging their feet in searching out cheap mediation to tackle the spread of the virus.
The mutation came to the attention of veterinarians as well as the island’s multitude of cat caregivers in January this year, with cases continuing to rise steadily until mid-spring when, Arsenoglou said, they started to level off.
According to Arsenoglou, the Association has put together a “task force” of specialist veterinarians to monitor the spread of the mutation as well as to inform both fellow vets and activists of the latest developments.
The feline coronavirus has been around since 1963. Previous epidemics, including one in Greece more than two decades ago, eventually fizzled out without the use of any medication, Arsenoglou said.
Measures have already been enacted to prevent the export of the mutation through mandatory medical check-ups of all felines destined for adoption abroad.
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The Associated Press contributed to this article.