A Gainesville animal shelter has temporarily stopped accepting and adopting out cats after a kitten was found to have a contagious disease.
Officials say a kitten brought to the Alachua County Animal Service shelter July 26 died in its cage. They say the kitten had feline panleukopenia, which is a virus that is easily spread and potentially fatal.
"Apparently the mother had been hit by a car by the side of the road, so this guy found the kittens and brought them in here so they wouldn't starve because they were pretty young," said Jessica Lauginiger, Animal Service investigator. "And they've been OK. They were OK for a few days, and we came in yesterday morning and one of them had died. So we tested it for the panleukopenia and it was positive."
The shelter medicine program at the University of Florida College of Medicine began testing the shelter's 150 cats on Wednesday. Program director Julie Levy says it will take several days to get the results back and to see if any new cases pop up.
"The tests are very expensive, too, and as a shelter, we don't have 150 tests on hand, so we really needed their help to come in and for us to be proactive about this and make sure it didn't spread," Levy said.
Officials say anyone who adopted a cat recently should watch for signs of the virus, including vomiting and diarrhea.
"This is a virus that lives in the intestinal track of cats," Levy said.
She said more than half of cats infected with the virus die.
"Because the mortality rate for this virus is so high, shelters usually have to euthanize the infected cats, and hopefully that won't be very many, if at all," Levy said.
Until results come back, the cat section of the shelter will remain closed.
"This virus is extremely infectious and very easily carried on our clothes and our hands, or it gets on the floor and you can track it around," Levy said. "And you can think of a shelter like a cruise ship, where there's a large crowd condensed into one small space. And we've all heard of these outbreaks of vomiting and diarrhea on cruise ships from a virus spreading rapidly, and it's the same thing that can happen with panleukopenia virus in a shelter."