A lack of knowledge means vets are putting their lives at risk from an “aggressive” zoonosis found in cats.

A cat showing some of the clinical signs of feline cowpox.
A cat showing some of the clinical signs of feline cowpox.

The warning comes from Danièlle Gunn-Moore, professor of feline medicine at The University of Edinburgh, following a significant increase in the severity and number of feline cowpox (FPxV) cases diagnosed in the UK in the past few weeks.

Cowpox usually presents as small, demarcated and ulcerated skin lesions that resolve spontaneously. It can also be associated with severe pneumonia. However, severe cases are not consistent with these clinical signs. Such cases present with large areas of focal dermal necrosis (eschars) and/or extensive erythema and oedema.

Aggressive strain

Prof Gunn-Moore said: “Cowpox should really be called volepox because they are the primary host. The strain of cowpox this year is particularly aggressive. I’ve never seen cowpox go neurological before, nor have I ever seen these big necrotic eschars.”

As such, she is urging vets to be vigilant and realise how varied cowpox presentations can be. Prof Gunn-Moore is also concerned vets are exposing themselves to the condition because they are not used to seeing such an aggressive strain.

Vet warning

Danielle Gunn-Moore
Danielle Gunn-Moore is concerned vets are exposing themselves to the condition because they are not used to seeing such an aggressive strain.

Prof Gunn-Moore said: “The major worry is for the cats, but also the vets dealing with them.

“Every photograph I’ve been sent of cats with lesions shows vets with ungloved hands, meaning they think these odd lesions could not be in any way a risk to them.

“I am worried because if people don’t recognise it might be pox, they won’t think to put a mask or gloves on, and it’s my job to protect my colleagues as well. If you are not immunosuppressed then it usually won’t cause anything more than a pock mark or two, which will scar. Unfortunately, if you are asthmatic or atopic, if you’ve got eczema, then it can go systemic and, yes, it can kill.”

Prof Gunn-Moore and her colleagues would like to hear about any cases colleagues come across, as an increase in vital virulence may have implications for zoonotic transmission and the severity of transmitted diseases. Email conor.o’halloran@roslin.ed.ac.uk

  • Read the full story in the 14 November issue of Veterinary Times.
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