Italy’s cat owners told to look out for signs of mystery ‘rabies-like’ virus

Public officials have called for owners to quarantine cats showing suspect symptoms after a housecat in the Tuscan town of Arezzo contracted a rare virus and started biting its owners.

Italy's cat owners told to look out for signs of mystery 'rabies-like' virus
File photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP
Arezzo's Mayor, Alessandro Ghinelli, told a press conference on Wednesday that a new ordinance calls for cat owners and carers of feral cat colonies to immediately report any symptoms that could point to the so-called “lyssavirus”.
The virus related to rabies has only been identified once before, in 2002, in a bat in the Caucasus region.
It is unknown how the female two-year-old cat in the Tuscan municipality contracted the virus.
Last month, the cat's owners reported that their pet had suddenly become aggressive and bit three members of the family. Concerned, they took her to a veterinarian, where she also attacked the vet.
“You could see that she was suffering but she wouldn't allow you to approach her, she basically had symptoms compatible with rabies,” said veterinarian Paolo Barneschi, as quoted in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica on Tuesday.
The cat died after being transferred to another clinic, where specialists had suspected a neurological problem. The virus was identified after part of the cat's brain was sent to an animal health institute in Padua for tests.
Thirteen people who had handled the cat, including those bitten, have been given an antibody treatment.
The new ordinance, in place until August 27, calls for any cats or dogs which have recently bitten people and who display suspicious symptoms such as biting, paralysis, or changes in temperament, must be put under quarantine for 10 days.
“The case of the kitten affected by lyssavirus certainly concerns us,” Ghinelli said, calling the new law “necessary preventative measures aimed at safeguarding and protecting public health”.
Health authorities are currently looking at whether a colony of bats living in a tree near the family's home may have been the source of the virus.

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