Researchers in Hong Kong have discovered a new virus that they’re calling feline morbillivirus. It is related to the paramyxovirus that causes canine distemper; but in cats it appears to cause tubulointerstitial nephritis, an inflammation of the tissue between the kidney tubules that carry urine out of the body. The full article is quite interesting; you can find it here (http://www.livescience.com/19151-virus-cat-kidney-disease.html)
There are several very important points to take away from this article:
1. This virus has, so far, been found only in China and Hong Kong.
2. This paper’s primary aim was to describe the virus in detail, down to amino acid sequences. Conclusions regarding the disease course, its true prevalence, or its potential to spread, are purely speculative.
3. Tubulointerstitial nephritis is not the same as chronic glomerulonephritis, the condition that is responsible for most of the chronic kidney disease and renal failure we see in American cats. Glomerulonephritis affects a different part of the kidney.
4. Only stray cats were tested. Stray cats, of course, are reservoirs for many diseases, and infectious diseases are typically found at a higher level among them.
5. Among stray cats, 12.3 percent were infected with the virus (presumably meaning active infections, though how this was determined is unclear). Another 27.8 percent had antibodies to the virus, indicating a prior infection that the cats had naturally fought off and cleared.
6. Necropsies on 27 deceased stray cats found tubulointerstitial nephritis in seven of those who appeared to have active feline morbillivirus infection. Only two of 15 uninfected cats had kidney damage. These numbers must be interpreted with caution. The researchers are not claiming that the virus or associated damage was the cause of death, but could have been incidental findings.
7. Big Pharma is already salivating over the opportunity to create another money-making vaccine. “We are now working [to learn] the relative risk of kidney involvement in those cats infected and testing for antiviral agents, [and] trying to set up animal models for vaccine studies.” I’ll bet they are! But there is a long way to go before we even know if this virus is present in U.S. cats, and if so, what that may imply. Meanwhile, most of the chronic kidney disease in our cats can be laid at the doorstep of the current feline distemper (panleukopenia) vaccine, which is known to specifically cause glomerulonephritis. For more information, please see our article Don’t Vaccinate Your Adult Cat for Distemper, as well as our comprehensive look at Vaccination.