Thousands Of Felines Die In Cyprus As Vets Turn To Human Drug For Treatment


Topline

Sick cats in Cyprus are being given human Covid-19 drugs in an effort to stamp out a lethal feline coronavirus, offering hope of saving the island’s famous feline population from a virus that has already killed thousands of animals and shows little sign of stopping.

Key Facts

Vets began rolling out molnupiravir, an anti-Covid drug marketed as Lagevrio, to Cypriot cats on Tuesday, a day that serendipitously coincided with International Cat Day.

Experts hope the drug, which was originally designed to treat Covid-19 in humans and has been taken from a stockpile meant for that purpose, will help stem an outbreak of feline coronavirus, dubbed FCoV-23, that has been devastating the island’s cats since January.

The virus, which is different from the human virus that causes Covid-19 and cannot be transmitted to humans, is common, spreads through feces and typically causes no symptoms or only mild illness like diarrhea.

Some strains of feline coronavirus can trigger feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), which is almost always fatal without treatment and experts believe a mutated and highly virulent feline coronavirus strain is driving the current outbreak.

Research indicates molnupiravir can help most cats recover from FIP, and Christodoulos Pipis, the government’s veterinary services director, told the Guardian some 2,000 packages of the drug will be distributed to vets in the coming weeks to combat the virus, a total of 80,000 pills.

Officials have said cat owners will be able to get the drug for around $2.74 a pill from veterinarians following a formal examination and diagnosis.

What We Don’t Know

It’s not clear precisely how many cats have died as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. A great deal of this uncertainty stems from the broader uncertainty over how many cats actually live on Cyprus, a result of the significant feral or stray population that the island is well known for. Estimates tend to put the number of cats on Cyprus north of 1 million, meaning there are likely more cats than humans. Activist groups, notably the Cat Protection and Welfare Society, estimate some 300,000 cats—domestic and feral—have died in the outbreak since January. The dramatic figure was based on an estimated 20-30% mortality, according to the Guardian, and has not been independently verified. Local vets told the outlet that while they don’t doubt the severity of the outbreak they do question the veracity of the figure, estimating around 8,000 deaths in the first six months of the year.

What To Watch For

The spread of the mutant coronavirus strain in Cyprus has put vets around the world on alert for similar outbreaks. There are already anecdotal reports from vets of FIP cases ticking up in areas with large feral cat populations such as Lebanon, Turkey and Israel, according to the Guardian.

Tangent

Costas Himonas, senior pharmacist at the Cyprus health ministry, has said drawing on the human drug stockpile will not compromise the island’s ability to respond should there be a new Covid surge.

Further Reading

Experts warn about feline coronavirus after ‘thousands’ of cat deaths in Cyprus (Guardian)

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