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Shelter Medicine: When Is a Virulent Calicivirus Really a Virulent Calicivirus?

A primer on recognizing the virus—and managing its accomplices and impersonators

A primer on recognizing the virus—and managing its accomplices and impersonators

Tongue ulcers caused by calicivirus can be horseshoe-shaped or may appear as circular lesions of varying sizes. MICHAEL BANNASCH/UC DAVIS
A few weeks ago, I woke up to find no fewer than five emails in my in-box containing the same alarming news bulletin: “VIRULENT STRAIN OF CALICIVIRUS FOUND IN CATS IN HUMANE SHELTER.” According to these reports, tissue samples from infected cats had tested positive for a mutation of the virus commonly associated with feline upper respiratory infection. Adoptions were shut down at the shelter in question, and pet owners in the community were urged to get their cats vaccinated. The photos were painful to look at: Some of the affected cats had oral ulcers so severe that their tongues were sloughing off.

Concerned that virulent systemic feline calicivirus might indeed be the cause, my colleagues and I collected samples from five of the cats who’d been euthanized. What we found was not a surprise … but neither was it a virulent systemic calicivirus.

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