Research shows promise for FIP patients

By Dr. Jim Randolph

Could it be over?

In 1994 we lost our precious Sally to what her pathologists believed was FIP, feline infectious peritonitis. Sally was only 12 when she fell ill after a dental prophylaxis (teeth cleaning). She had survived with flying colors. Three days later, she was gone.

Feline infectious peritonitis is a disease caused by a coronavirus. Coronaviruses' virulence exists in what virologists call a spectrum. That is, the range of syndromes they can cause goes from illness so mild it may go unnoticed, to fulminant multi-organ failure that kills in hours. Fortunately, those latter strains are downright rare.

Most coronaviruses, so-called because electron microscope images of them are crown-like, cause a mild, self-limiting diarrhea. Occasionally, however, they mutate into a virulent organism that attacks the lining of the abdomen, as well as the abdominal and thoracic organs. The resulting disease is FIP, usually attacking cats under one year of age. Rarely do affected cats make it to their second birthday.

The pathologists on Sally's post-mortem evaluation postulated that, although she might have been infected since her youth, her symptomatology didn't appear until she was older. As is typical with FIP, routine screening pre-anesthesia laboratory test results were completely normal. There was no hint that she might develop complications.

Now, FIP's grip on young cats' lives might be coming to an end. For years, researchers have wondered whether antiviral treatment might help FIP patients. Examples of antiviral therapy are Tamiflu, (oseltamivir) administered to humans in the early stages of influenza and Famvir (famcyclovir) for herpesvirus patients, among other medications.

Research published in the journal PLOS ONE demonstrated that even cats in advanced disease improved with new antiviral therapy within three weeks of initiating therapy. Every cat ultimately returned to normal. Researchers used the term "full recovery."

This study was conducted on cats experimentally infected. The next phase will use naturally-infected patients, privately-owned pets who have contracted the disease in their usual environments.

Dr. Jim Randolph, a veterinarian at Animal General Hospital in Long Beach, can be reached at South Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association, 20005 Pineville Road, Long Beach, MS 39560. Include a self-addressed stamped envelope.