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Vaccine for cats' number one killer.

The first vaccine to prevent feline leukemia -- the number one killer in domestic cats -- is being distributed to veterinarians this winter. The vaccine, developed by Richard Olsen, professor of veterinary pathobiology at Ohio State University in Columbus and marketed by Norden Laboratories, Inc., in Lincoln, Neb., is the first vaccine against any cancer in mammals. Anticancer vaccines for chickens and other birds are already in use.

The feline leukemia virus (FLV), discovered in the 1950s to cause a fatal leukemia and other cancers in cats, also causes aplastic anemia, reproductive failure, respiratory infections and immune system failure. The virus's suppression of cats' immune systems can render them susceptible to many other infections that ultimately are fatal.

FLV infects about 1.5 million of the United States' 50 million pet cats and kills about 1 million of these each year. Most cats infected by the virus survive for a few years with little noticeable effect, Olsen says, but later die from immune suppression or other complications caused by the virus. Infected cats can spread the virus to other cats through saliva by grooming each other or sharing food dishes, or possibly through urine by sharing litter pans. Feline leukemia is the first cancer found to be spread by contact, but the virus apparently cannot infect humans or other animals.

The baccine uses two viral proteins instead of killed or modified live virus to immunize cats. Using protein molecules is safer than using whole virus, Olsen says, because the whole virus risks infecting cats and causing a mild case of the disease, including the virus's suppression of the immune system.

One of the proteins protects cats from viral infection caused by FLV. The other prevents tumors caused by the virus, in case cats have already been infected and the vaccine cannot completely prevent FLV's growth. Thus, although the vaccine cannot totally protect cats already infected with FLV, it won't make the disease any worse, Olsen says, and it may even help cats that are in the early stages of the disease.

Can the feline leukemia vaccine provide clues for developing an AIDS vaccine? It's all conjecture at this point, Olsen says. Both FLV and the purported AIDS virus are retroviruses that cause immune suppression. "Conceivably," Olsen says, "the technique used to develop the FLV vaccine can be used to develop an AIDS vaccine."
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Title Annotation:feline leukemia
Author:Bennett, Dawn D.
Publication:Science News
Date:Feb 16, 1985
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