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The Athens-Area Humane Society, a no kill shelter, routinely pulls cats from more overcrowded facilities. (Photo/Sofi Gratas)

Cases of a rare, often fatal virus have forced the Athens-Clarke County Animal Shelter to quarantine all feline residents and turn away any new shelter occupants.

The ACC Animal Shelter will not take in cats until at least July 20, in response to two confirmed cases of feline panleukopenia, according to an official statement made by the animal shelter on July 10.

“FP is a highly contagious virus among unvaccinated cats that is common in the wild and has a high mortality rate, especially among kittens,” the statement said.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, FP “infects and kills cells that are rapidly growing and dividing, such as those in bone marrow, intestines and the developing fetus.”

The virus can be particularly dangerous in highly populated areas like shelters.

“Kennels, pet shops, and animal shelters and other areas where cats are housed together appear to be the main reservoirs,” according to the AVMA.

Spikes in the virus occur during the warmer months when cats are more likely to come in contact with other cats.

“It’s not common at all, but shelters are susceptible to widespread infections in general,” said Laura Mosoriak, a veterinarian and feline expert at Kingstowne Cat Clinic in Alexandria, Virginia. “It’s really bad when it happens. Some shelters choose to euthanize all cats, whether infected or not, and do a deep cleaning afterwards.”

AVMA explains, “Ideally, unvaccinated cats should not be allowed into an area where an infected cat has been — even if the area has been disinfected.”

The Red & Black contacted the shelter to ask about the status of the cats there. Shelter staff had no additional comment beyond the statement and that quarantined cats are not available for adoption.

The Athens shelter took immediate steps to shut down the cat section of the building in order “to prevent accidental exposure to the virus for cats outside of the shelter through human contact,” according to the statement.

Only staff will have access to the cat area of the shelter, but the dog section will remain under normal operation. Humans and dogs cannot be affected by the virus. FP is often confused with canine parvo, although the diseases sprout from different viruses. Canine parvo is a contagious virus that affects dogs. 

The Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Animal Protection Division, which regulates and licenses shelters in the state, has concurred with the protections put in place.

No cats are available for adoption at this time, although the shelter will operate under normal hours during the quarantine for dog adoptions and surrenders.

The shelter has recommended that those seeking to surrender cats prior to July 20 contact the shelter by phone.

For further questions or concerns, you can reach the Athens Clarke County Animal Shelter at 706-613-3540.

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