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Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)  

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) infection is responsible for more deaths among cats than any other infectious disease. The virus affects domestic cats and occurs in some wild felines as well.

There are three main types of feline leukemia. FeLV-positive cats can be infected with one, two, or all three:

~FeLV-A occurs in all FeLV-infected cats and causes severe immunosuppression (weakened immune system).
~FeLV-B occurs in about 50% of all FeLV-infected cats and causes more neoplastic disease (i.e., tumors and other abnormal tissue growths) than cats infected only with FeLV-A.
~FeLV-C occurs in about 1% of FeLV-infected cats and causes severe anemia. FeLV is one of the most devastating feline diseases worldwide. FeLV infects about 2% to 3% of all cats.

Sick cats are four times more likely than healthy cats to be infected with FeLV. Researchers estimate that about 50% of cats with severe bacterial infections, and 75% of cats with toxoplasmosis, a protozoan disease, also have FeLV infections.

Males are 1.7 times more likely to be infected than females, and younger cats are more susceptible to infection than older cats. FeLV is found mostly in cats from 1 to 6 years old; the average age is 3 years. Outdoor cats are more likely to be infected with FeLV. Less than 1% of healthy indoor cats in the United States are infected with FeLV, compared to 1% to 2% of healthy outdoor cats, and more than 13% of sick stray cats. FeLV is more common in multicat households than in single-cat households, especially when cats go outdoors.

FeLV usually spreads through infected saliva. It can also spread through infected urine, tears, and feces, and through an infected mother to her kittens during gestation and nursing. Twenty percent of FeLV-positive mothers pass the virus to their kittens. Methods of transmission include the following:

Bite wounds from infected cats (more common among outdoor and indoor-outdoor cats); Blood transfusions; Mouth and nose contact with infected saliva or urine; Mutual grooming; Nose-to-nose contact; Shared food dishes and water bowls; Shared litter trays; Sneezing.

Veterinarian researchers generally agree that FeLV cannot be transmitted to humans.

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