So here's a thing. Cats get coronavirus, of course it is not the same as the human version - Julian Norton

So here's a thing. Cats get coronavirus.
Julian talks about the CoronavirusJulian talks about the Coronavirus
Julian talks about the Coronavirus

Of course, it is not the same as human coronavirus and it causes a completely different disease to the one humans can get, the one which is causing global chaos.

The disease feline coronavirus can cause is called Feline Infectious Peritonitis. If you have a cat, do not panic. There is no need to enforce quarantine or lock it in the shed.

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Having recently returned from the French Alps (where, I think, one case was identified three weeks ago), my wife was banned from her Pilates class – metaphorically also locked in the shed. Is this a sound precaution or an annoying inconvenience and upon what information was it based, given that she did the NHS online survey and came out all clear?

It turned out that Mrs Tiggywinkle’s owner was a toddler of nearly three years old - Julian NortonWildlife artist, Robert Fuller charts 'Bandita' the stoat as she turns white for winterAs I write, I am listening to a radio programme and the host of the phone-in is asking for doctors and healthcare officials to call. It seems there is a dearth of proper information there, too.

Thankfully, an emergency doctor has called in. He has some facts, some actual facts. The presenter is now stuck. She doesn’t know what to do when faced with someone with proper data.

It turns out coronavirus is worse than standard flu. Its virulence factor (the number of new cases which are generated per clinical case, i.e. a measure of how infectious the disease) is 2.2. This is about twice that of influenza. That means that the new coronavirus is about twice as infectious as standard ‘flu.

From the doctor on the radio, more facts emerge.

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The mortality rate (the percentage of clinical cases which die) is approximately one per cent. The death rate from ‘flu is nought point one per cent, so this coronavirus is, so far, about 10 times as deadly as flu. These figures sound fairly bad but in total, global terms, the actual health impact of the apparently novel virus has, so far, been low.

However, there is one absolute certainty: that the virus will spread worldwide before too long. Airborne viruses are brilliant at spreading. A disease like HIV back in the 1980s, was spread by certain very specific routes. If you avoid those activities, you stood little chance of contracting that infection. But with an upper respiratory disease it is close to impossible to halt its spread.

But we need not panic. (I studied virology as an extra degree during my veterinary course at Cambridge, so I am qualified to talk about this). Although there is no proper cure for viral infections, their Achilles heel is that a virus particle relies entirely on a relationship with a cell to multiply and survive. A virus that kills its host, whether it’s a cat or a human, has no hope of surviving. In short, it’s not a very good virus if it kills its host.

Most viruses attenuate their pathogenicity over time, which is why virus outbreaks start dramatically and then peter out. Think of the major virus outbreaks over recent history.

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None of them trivial, but the inexorable expansion of the world’s population has not yet been dented. And, like small children returning from the toilet, or from playing in the mud, adults, who are hopefully already aware of basic hygiene, are told to wash our hands and save the world.

Back in the veterinary clinic, life continues in a non-panicky way and we only wear face masks when cleaning dirty dogs’ teeth or mixing up chemotherapy drugs. (Both happened on Friday last week. I was tempted to post on Instagram, but refrained for fear of inducing more panic).

I’m just really, really hoping I don’t have to diagnosis a cat with peritonitis and tell its owner their cat has coronavirus. But, of course, if I did, I’d furnish them with all the actual facts.

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