Animal epidemic turns Cyprus into an "island of dead cats" and could spread to Lebanon and Turkey

Middle East News
2023-07-11 | 06:33
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Animal epidemic turns Cyprus into an "island of dead cats" and could spread to Lebanon and Turkey
Animal epidemic turns Cyprus into an "island of dead cats" and could spread to Lebanon and Turkey

A surge of feline coronavirus on the island of Cyprus has caused the death of 300,000 cats since January, prompting animal advocates, including Denis Ayiomamitis, to urge the government to take action to halt the spread of the epidemic, which could extend to Lebanon, and Turkey, according to experts.

The six-month-old cat, "Baby," was admitted to a veterinary clinic in the capital city of Nicosia due to feline infectious peritonitis.

Veterinarian Costis Larkos explains that this virus "originated from a mutation of the enteric coronavirus, which affects 90 percent of cats," and it is "highly contagious" among these animals but does not transmit to humans who interact with infected cats.

Feline infectious peritonitis exhibits various symptoms, including fever, abdominal swelling, weakness, and occasionally aggression.

Experts point out that the cat population, primarily consisting of stray cats, exceeds the estimated population of slightly over one million on the island.

Cyprus's history with cats is not new. The discovery of a cat's bones alongside human remains at a burial site dating back more than 9,000 years is the oldest evidence suggesting that cats were domesticated animals.

Black Market -
Denis Ayiomamitis, president of "Cats of Cyprus," and vice president of "Cyprus Voice for Animals," reports that at least 300,000 cats have died due to the disease in the past six months.

For the past 25 years, Ayiomamitis has been feeding approximately sixty stray cats in a Nicosia cemetery. Standing beside the cats leaping between graves, the 70-year-old retiree states, "The groups are doing well, but we are concerned because one infected cat leads to the infection of other cats."

Feline infectious peritonitis has spread to several major cities in Cyprus, the EU member state that has been divided into two since Turkey invaded its northern territories in 1974.

This epidemic could also impact neighboring countries such as Lebanon, and Turkey. However, due to a lack of research, "nothing can confirm this," according to Dimitris Ipaminondas, Deputy President of the Cyprus Veterinary Medical Association.

Officially, only 107 cases have been recorded in the Greek Cypriot part of the island, according to the Veterinary Services of the Ministry of Agriculture. However, this number does not reflect the reality, as a significant number of stakeholders in the sector confirm the difficulty of diagnosing the disease, as well as the shortage of necessary resources.

When cats fall ill, they usually isolate themselves and spend their time alone. Individuals responsible for feeding these animals told AFP that the cats disappear, and only a few of them are found.

The solution to this problem lies in two options: either using the approved human coronavirus drug from India, molnupiravir, or a veterinary antiviral drug called GS-425144, which is authorized in England.

The Cypriot authorities have only allowed the importation of GS-425144 under strict restrictions, along with the high cost of treatment ranging from 3,000 to 7,000 euros per cat. As a result, the island lacks a stock of these medicines.

Some people are forced to resort to illegal means.

A Cypriot citizen, who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of facing problems, says, "We buy drugs from the black market online or through Facebook groups," adding, "We keep our suppliers secret to ensure the continued availability of treatments for our animals."

"Island of Dead Cats" -
For weeks, Ipaminondas has been seeking government approval for molnupiravir, a drug that costs around 200 euros per cat.

The Ministry of Agriculture confirmed to AFP that it is considering "possible means to address this issue" through "available pharmaceutical formulations in the EU market."

Vasiliki Mani, a 38-year-old member of several animal welfare associations, calls for a quick solution to this problem. In January, she provided treatment costing 3,600 euros for two stray cats infected with feline infectious peritonitis.

"I spent all my savings," she says, noting that animals in Cyprus are being treated "negligently and cruelly."

She points out that the virus continues to mutate, and Cyprus will become the "Island of Dead Cats" instead of its current nickname, the "Island of Cats."

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