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UK warning of rise in “aggressive” Cowpox cases in Cats

Professor Danielle Gunn-Moore (Professor of feline medicine at the University of Edinburgh) has published an article in a veterinary journal (Veterinary Times November 14 2016, volume 46, no 45) as a warning to veterinary surgeons in small animal practice about a significant increase in the severity and number of Feline Cowpox (FPxV) cases diagnosed in the UK in the past weeks.

Professor Gunn-Moore’s concern was about vets’ health and the risks to the profession in getting exposed to this Feline Cowpox virus.  As the warning has been sent out to vets, I felt it necessary to extend the courtesy to cat owners in the UK.  Cases have been reported from practices across the UK.

This is one of those diseases that are classed as “zoonotic”.  In other words, this is a disease in pets that can be transmitted to people.  In this case it’s through contact with cats.

Prof Gunn-Moore said of the cases and images she’d seen sent in by veterinary surgeons: “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 immuno-suppressed 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 yet it can kill”.  She went on to say that “owners of infected cats should be advised to wear gloves when handling them and seek medical advice if they develop lesions.”

Cowpox usually present as small, outlined 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.  “The strain of Cowpox this year is particularly aggressive.  I have never seen cowpox go neurological before nor have I seen these big necrotic eschars.”

Amplification in the bank and field vole population could be one of the reasons for an increase in cases.  A mild winter could account for a boom in the rodent populations, as could poor harvests.  Wood mice can also spread the disease.

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Picture(s) courtesy of Edinburgh University:  close-up of a lesion