Q: My cat has been diagnosed with feline herpesvirus. What is it, and can she transmit it to me?
A: Every species has its own version of herpesvirus. Feline herpesvirus (FHV) can’t be transmitted to humans, and human herpesvirus can’t be transmitted to cats.
Feline herpesvirus is widespread in cats, highly contagious and causes upper respiratory infections or eye problems such as conjunctivitis and corneal ulcers. Some cats experience both. Usually kittens acquire FHV from their mothers. Cats in crowded shelters or catteries are also at risk. The disease spreads through direct contact with saliva or eye or nose secretions from an infected cat or contaminated objects. When cats sneeze, the virus becomes aerosolized, spreading through the air.
Vaccination helps reduce the severity of FHV, but it won’t necessarily prevent it. Often the virus lies dormant until the cat experiences a stressful situation that overpowers the immune system, causing signs to manifest.
Typically, mild cases resolve on their own, but severe cases or ones that don’t improve are treated with antivirals and sometimes antibiotics for secondary bacterial infections.
If eyes are affected, your veterinarian may refer you to a specialist. Eye infections that are severe or not improving should be treated without delay because they can cause permanent damage to the eye, said veterinary ophthalmologist Dr. Cindy Mar.
Even after a cat recovers, the virus persists in its body, waiting for another stressful situation or immune suppression (from medications such as corticosteroids) to reappear. In homes, shelters or other situations with multiple cats, it’s a good idea to isolate the sick cat, provide separate food and water bowls and other items, and disinfect the environment thoroughly.
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