Novel gammaherpesvirus found in Australian cats

In one of the first new feline virus discoveries in the past 25 years, researchers at the Faculty of Veterinary
Science, University of Sydney have demonstrated a novel gammaherpesvirus in cats from Australia, Singapore and the USA.1

The work is part of an international collaboration initiated by Associate Professor Julia Beatty from the Faculty’s Valentine Charlton Cat Centre, with major collaborators, Professor Sue VandeWoude and Dr Ryan Troyer, from Colorado State University.

The rationale for this work was a long-standing clinical suspicion that novel cancer-causing viruses existed in cats. In particular, HIV-infected humans develop a range of lymphomas that are caused by one of two gammaherpesviruses. Because cats infected with FIV are at risk of developing similar lymphomas, it seemed
possible that cats harbored their own gammaherpesvirus.

Using an adapted degenerate PCR technique, the research team found three novel viruses affecting domestic cats, bobcats and pumas from the USA. Their most recent work shows that the domestic cat’s virus, Felis catus gammaherpesvirus 1 (FcaGHV1), is also present in cats from Australia and Singapore, with an overall prevalence by qPCR of 12.8%. Finding FcaGHV1 DNA at similar prevalence in the first three regions explored suggests that FcaGHV1 is likely to be widely endemic worldwide.

In other species, gammherpesviruses typically cause latent infection unless host immunity is compromised. Recent data demonstrated a three-fold increased risk of FcaGHV1 detection in sick cats compared with healthy ones, supporting a potential pathogenic role for the virus.

This is a major discovery that affects the world’s estimated 600 million domestic cat population and the significance of its discovery goes beyond the feline population. Cats live very closely with humans and vigilance for the ability of any new cat virus to cause disease in humans is essential, as infections spreading from animals to people are the predominant source of the world's emerging infectious diseases. Feline pathogen transfer from freeroaming cats, accompanying expanding human habitats, also presents a risk to wildlife populations, and the development of a vaccine for FcaGHV1 would be relevant to all species.

The latest finding is the second time that a new global infectious agent of cats has been discovered by collaborations of the team of clinical researchers at the Valentine Charlton Cat Centre in the past year. In June 2013, Associate Professor Vanessa Barrs, who heads the University of Sydney’s team with Associate Professor Beatty, announced the discovery of a new feline fungus, Aspergillus felis, that causes life-threatening infections in humans and cats.

Anne Jackson
Editor in Chief


  1. Beatty JA, Ryan M, Troyer RM, Carver S et al. Felis catus gammaherpesvirus 1: a widely endemic potential pathogen of domestic cats. Virology 2014;460/461:100–107.

This article appeared in the July 2014 issue of the Australian Veterinary Journal

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